Rathjen, Raptors enjoy Pioneer slugfest

Dodgers prospect goes deep, drives in game-high four in rout

By Sam Dykstra / Special to MLB.com | September 13, 2012 11:05 PM ET

The Ogden Raptors didn't need much to stave off elimination in the Pioneer League Finals. They just needed to come home.

The Dodgers' Rookie-level affiliate outlasted Missoula, 13-7, on Thursday night in Game 2 of the best-of-3 Championship Series at Lindquist Field.

The Raptors, who dropped the first contest, 4-3, in Missoula, again have home-field advantage Friday in the decisive Game 3 that will determine the circuit's 2012 champion. That's huge, according to Jeremy Rathjen, the slugger who homered and drove in four runs in the victory.

"It's definitely better when we're here," said the 22-year-old right fielder, whose RBI total tied a season best. "We like playing at home. Whether it's staying at home with your host family or something else, there's more of a comfort level here, and we all feel that."

Because of that ease within his own friendly confines, Rathjen began Ogden's 13-run onslaught with a two-run homer in the first inning. He worked a 3-0 count from Osprey starter Ross Gerdeman (0-1) before lifting a 3-2 fastball over the center-field fence for his second longball of the postseason.

But that was the only start.

In the third, Rathjen and Corey Seager sandwiched Jesus Valdez's walk with a popout and a groundout to kick off what appeared to be a rather mundane frame. Instead, the next seven Raptors reached base safely on four singles, two walks and a triple, allowing seven runs to score to expand the lead to 10-1.

"Those are how you win games in the playoffs," said Rathjen, who capped the big inning with a two-run single. "There were a lot of two-out RBIs there, and you need those to get leads in big games like these."

That would be all the runs Ogden would need on its own soil. Missoula collected five runs in the top of the fifth -- three on a one-out home run by left fielder Alex Glenn -- and tacked on another with a solo shot by Jake Lamb in the sixth, but it was all the visitors could muster. The Raptors, for their part, added two insurance runs in the fifth and another in the seventh.

But Rathjen admitted a slugfest can have two opposite effects on the psyche.

"It's definitely nerve-wracking in a game like this when both teams are going back and forth," he said, "but at the same time, it's always fun as a hitter to be involved in that. As a team, we're hitting well. When you know that, it makes it easier on yourself because you shake off a bad pitch, knowing that the guy behind you can pick it up. I enjoyed it tonight."

Thursday marked the second time in five playoff games that the Raptors had reached double-digits -- the other being Game 3 of the semifinals in an 11-9 win at home over Grand Junction.

The firepower shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given the team led the Pioneer League in runs with 510 in the 76-game regular season. (Orem was second at 500, before the drop-off to Grand Junction in third with 466.)

Nor should Rathjen's prowess at the plate take anyone aback. Selected by the Dodgers in the 11th round of last June's Draft, the right-handed slugger was the Raptors' lone representative on the circuit's postseason All-Star team, after finishing in a tie for the league lead with a .443 OBP and third with a .943 OPS. He also batted .324 with nine homers and 53 RBIs in 68 games.

He's continued that production into the postseason, where he's gone 8-for-19 (.421) with two homers, eight RBIs and four walks in his five playoff games. That comes from a mindset developed during his time at Rice University, where Rathjen played in NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals.

"It's just another baseball game," he said. "You can't press anything too much. You've got to stay relaxed and keep everything as normal as possible."

Easier said than done, of course, when elimination is on the line, but the Ogden outfielder didn't seem worried about Friday's finale.

"I'm sure when the game gets going, the adrenaline will start to kick in a little," Rathjen said. "You've got to relax, take everything one at-bat at a time. ... We've got a great group of guys here who can do that, and we've shown that throughout the season. We've just got to get one more, though."

Noel Cuelvas was 3-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs and three runs scored for the Raptors.

Gregg Downing (1-1) allowed one earned run on two hits over 5 1/3 innings in relief to earn the win.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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