The Albuquerque Isotopes came into Friday night’s home opener with the ignominious distinction of being the only Triple-A team without a home run. Third baseman Tim Smalling erased that status with one swing of the bat.
Smalling’s grand slam in the third inning helped propel Albuquerque to an 11-6 victory over visiting Tacoma. The Isotopes’ winning streak is now at four in a row and they are above .500 for the first time this season at 5-4.
“We were well aware of that going into the game but obviously we’re not going up there looking to get homers,” Smalling said. “We’re looking to get good pitches to hit and put good swings on them so they’ll come with time.”
Albuquerque was already ahead 3-2 in the third when Jordan Patterson drew a one-out walk and Will Swanner and Chris Nelson followed with back-to-back singles. Smalling then launched a James Paxton pitch into the Rainiers’ bullpen to make it 7-2.
“I think he threw a pitch on the black that was 95 (mph) and then next pitch he came back and threw me a slider and I felt like I was on it,” Smalling said. “Then he came back with a fastball and I was fortunate enough to get a good swing on it.”
Overall, it was a solid hitting night for the Isotopes, whose bats have come alive in the last four games since they opened the year losing three of four in Tacoma. Seven of nine Albuquerque players had at least one hit and one run scored Friday.
“We’ve got some players that are young and they’re trying to establish some consistency and hone in on a very competitive approach that can be put in play at this level and the next level,” manager Glenallen Hill said. “It’s nice to see some quality at-bats that happened, a lot of good swings.”
Mike Tauchman went 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Patterson was 1-for-2 and also drew three walks and scored twice.
Nelson was 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBI. Stephen Cardullo went 2-for-5 with a run and a double.
“It makes it that much more fun when everybody is kind of getting into the action and everybody is contributing,” said Smalling, who finished 2-for-3. “Tonight we had a lot of great at-bats by everybody.”
All of it was enough to back up starting pitcher Shane Carle (1-1), who atoned for a horrific outing (12 runs in four innings) at Tacoma on Sunday. This time around he gave up four runs on 10 hits and one walk in six innings.
“He competed and he attacked the zone with what he had,” Hill said. “It was good to see.”
The Isotopes did help him by turning four double plays in his six innings. In contrast, the Rainiers made three costly errors on the night that led to four unearned runs.
“We had times this year when we didn’t turn any double plays,” Hill said. “This was the game for the double plays and the homer.”
Albuquerque and Tacoma will continue their series Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Lefty Ryan Carpenter (0-1, 7.20) will start for the Isotopes against Rainiers right-hander Adrian Sampson (1-0, 0.00).