RENO Of course it would turn on a home run. Power had been the River Cats' saving grace all series, as they took the Reno Aces to the limit in the opening round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs. Only Sunday, it was the Aces' Mike Jacobs pouncing on a two-strike pitch with two on in the seventh inning of a tied game.
There was little doubt where the ball would land, carrying all the way onto the grassy berm beyond the fence in right field, and carrying the Aces along with it into the PCL Championship Series.
For just the second time in six years, the River Cats will not play for the PCL title, their season ending Sunday with a 7-4 loss to a depleted but scrappy Reno team in the decisive fifth game of the series.
"You hate to see the season end like that, but it doesn't take away from what these guys have done all year," manager Darren Bush said outside a quiet visitors' clubhouse at Aces Ballpark. "They played hard all year."
Befitting a back-and-forth series in which neither team won consecutive games, the River Cats led 3-0 early Sunday but couldn't hold it.
Jacobs was 3 for 18 in the series when he came up in the seventh, after the River Cats had chosen to walk Josh Bell, who was 7 for 18, with a runner on second and one out.
Valdez worked the count in his favor but left a 1-2 sinker over the middle of the plate, and Jacobs didn't miss.
"You've got two guys in the lineup there that can hurt you," Bush said. "So you take your pick on which one to pitch to. I opted to put Bell on and have one of the other guys beat us, and he beat us."
Grant Green tripled to lead off the eighth and scored when Kila Ka'aihue doubled. But Michael Taylor, who finished with eight hits in the series, flied out to right, and Aces left-hander Joe Paterson came on to retire Jason Jaramillo and Daric Barton.
Barton, whose extra-inning homer Saturday night had forced the fifth game, hit a blooper to center, but second baseman Taylor Harbin caught it on the run, dropping into a barrel roll as an announced crowd of 2,656 sensed an imminent win.
It ended a season in which the River Cats finished with the best regular-season record in the PCL for the second year in a row under Bush and won their league-record sixth consecutive division title.
Brandon Moss, Chris Carter and Brandon Hicks all left holes in the lineup when the A's called them up, and ascending starters A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily were among the pitchers who passed through. Bush deftly handled the moves, guiding a team that seized control of first place for good June 21 and didn't lose more than two straight games on the road all season.
With starter Sonny Gray retiring 10 hitters in a row in the early innings Sunday, the three-run lead felt big. But in the fifth, Harbin hit a 1-0 pitch from Gray over the wall in left to break up the shutout.
Gray then walked Tyler Bortnick and gave up a single to Ryan Budde, and both runners came around to score on two-out singles by Tyler Kuhn and Bell.
Infielder Wes Timmons, who intends to retire after the season and started the final two games of the series, led off the ninth for the River Cats and grounded out. Afterward, chewing on a sandwich, he extolled the occupants of the clubhouse behind him.
"Bunch of clowns," Timmons said. "I mean, this team, we had fun."