FORT WAYNE – So now it’s simple, at least.
Win, and you keep summer alive for 24 more hours. Lose, and someone else hoists the championship trophy in your own ballpark, in front of your own fans, in your own city.
These are the choices now, after Wisconsin 10, TinCaps 8 in Game 3 of the Midwest League Championship Series on Saturday night. This is where all the clichés go to be born, as the nights cool and summer shrinks to whoever gets to three wins first.
Wisconsin has two wins. The TinCaps have one. And so their backs are against the wall, and there’s no tomorrow, and it’s (choose one) do or die, or sink or swim.
We’re not done, TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said, defiant in a situation that calls for nothing else but defiance. We’re behind, but we’ve been in this situation before. So we just have to try to come out and score some runs early and try to make the game a lot easier for (starting pitcher James) Needy.
Down the hall, around the corner, and here sat catcher Austin Hedges.
We just have to go out and play the game we’ve played all year, he said. We need to go out and get strike one tomorrow, get ahead in the count on the pitching. We swung the bats pretty good today. We have to do the same thing tomorrow and we’ll be OK.
Or, not. Saturday they swung the bats, yes, and they put up eight runs and 11 hits, but David Goforth and three Wisconsin relievers also struck out 13 of them. The last was Duanel Jones, who went down swinging in the ninth to end it with a man on third and the Timber Rattlers on the ropes.
The visitors led 10-4 going into the home half of the eighth. But the TinCaps scored two in their half, both with two out, and two more in the ninth, and left the premises believing they’d simply run out of time.
We’re never giving up, Hedges said. Our guys battle to the final out. It was good to see tonight. We had plenty of opportunities, we just came up a little short.
We’re fine, Valentin agreed.
Fine, as long as Needy gives them five solid innings and hands a lead to the bullpen. That didn’t happen Saturday night.
To be sure, Frank Garces set Wisconsin down in order in the first and second, and Tyler Stubblefield drove one to the warning track for an RBI double, smacking his hands on his batting helmet in celebration as he arrived at second. The TinCaps led 1-0 after an inning, and 3-1 after three.
And then the wheels went thataway.
Cody Hebner came on for Garces in the fourth and Brandon Macias took him deep with two aboard.
Suddenly it was 6-3, a five-run inning for Wisconsin, four of the runs coming after there were two outs and nobody on. And the TinCaps, though they didn’t know it yet, were deader than disco, the bullpen giving up six hits and five runs, Wisconsin scoring eight of their 10 runs with two out.
And now it’s simple, at least. Now it’s the TinCaps whose backs are against the wall, who are on the brink, who need timely hitting to stretch summer another day, plus a return of the pitching that, in the first two games, limited Wisconsin to four runs and six hits.
This game of baseball, it’s about 25 guys, Valentin said Friday, before game three.
They’ll need ’em all now.