Tyler Stubblefield’s recent struggles mirrored that of some of his Fort Wayne teammates.
Entering Thursday’s game against West Michigan, the infielder had just four hits in his previous 25 at-bats, a .160 batting average.
Stubblefield broke out of the slump at just the right time. He had three doubles, two RBI and scored twice in Fort Wayne’s 10-4 victory against West Michigan in front of 7,760 fans at Parkview Field.
For the team, it’s huge because we’re trying to make the playoffs, Stubblefield said. For myself, it’s big that I can finally make an adjustment and see some results.
The TinCaps (36-30, 67-69 overall) opened a two-game lead over the Whitecaps (34-32, 70-66) for the Eastern Division’s wild card.
Four games remain in the regular season.
This was a big game for us, Fort Wayne manager Jose Valentin said. I think (today) is going to be even bigger.
According to Fort Wayne and West Michigan officials, a TinCaps’ victory today against the Whitecaps in the series finale would clinch a playoff spot. A win would give the TinCaps a three-game lead with three games remaining. A victory would also give Fort Wayne a 10-9 edge in the season series, which is the first tie-breaker for a playoff spot.
Lake County remains at the top among teams eligible for the second half. The Captains defeated Bowling Green 11-4. Lake County holds a two-game lead over Fort Wayne.
In the event of a three-way tie, Fort Wayne holds the tie-breaker edge with a today. Lansing and Bowling Green qualified for the playoffs in the first half.
Fort Wayne gained some much-needed breathing room despite a rare off night for starting pitcher Matt Wisler.
The right-hander from Bryan, Ohio, gave up two runs on four hits in four innings.
Wisler did come through with some big pitches in the second inning. West Michigan scored a run and had the bases loaded with one out.
Wisler struck out Chad Wright and Eugenio Suarez to get out of the jam.
Fort Wayne came back with two runs in the bottom of the second. Stubblefield hit a two-out, two-run double to give the TinCaps a 2-1 lead.
The pitcher (Tommy Collier) made two really good pitches, two off-speed pitches. I was out in front of both of them, Stubblefield said. I told myself, whatever you do, you have to battle here, you have to put the ball in play.’
The pitcher tried to come in and he missed out over the plate. Fortunately I put a good swing on and hit it down the (left-field) line for a double.
Valentin called it the biggest hit of the game.
After that, our battery got charged and our confidence got up, Valentin said. From that point on, our team was a lot better.
The TinCaps added two more two-out runs in the third inning. Stubblefield doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly to left field to give the TinCaps a 5-1 lead in the fourth.
West Michigan knocked Wisler out of the game with three straight singles to start the fifth. The third hit brought home a run to make it 5-2. James Jones entered and got Jason King to hit into a double play on his first pitch. He then struck out Lance Durham to end the threat.
That’s how you have to pitch, be aggressive and try to keep the ball down, Valentin said.
The TinCaps scored one in the bottom of the fifth and two runs in the sixth.
West Michigan attempted one final rally, loading the bases with no outs in the seventh. Johnny Barbato got Durham to fly out to shallow left field, forcing all the runners to hold. Pat Leyland the hit a fly ball to left field. Gaedele made the catch and then fired home. Hedges fielded the ball on a short hop and stretched over to tag Jason Krizan for an inning-ending double play.
As a catcher he showed me some guts, Valentin said. He didn’t panic at all. It was a play that changed the game.
The TinCaps scored two more runs in the eighth. Travis Whitmore had three hits. Duanel Jones, Kyle Gaedele and Yeison Asencio had two hits. Fort Wayne finished with 14 hits.
Our situational hitting was outstanding and the scoreboard kind of showed it, Whitmore said.