FORT WAYNE – With the playoffs waiting just offstage, TinCaps manager Jose Valentin caught fleeting glimpses of momentum Saturday night in the way the baseball came off Luis Tejada’s bat and out of Max Fried’s hand.
Sunday, he got more than just a glimpse.
In front of 6,482 fans at Parkview Field, the TinCaps emphatically halted a six-losses-in-eight-games slide, swatting the Great Lakes Loons 6-1 behind a three-run second inning, a robust and opportunistic offense and starting pitcher Colin Rea’s six shutout innings.
Rea and relievers Ruben Mejia, Trevor Gott and Chris Nunn combined for a five-hitter, while Tyler Stubblefield went 3 for 4 with two doubles to pace a nine-hit TinCaps attack. Mallex Smith stole his 63rd and 64th bases, putting him one away from the TinCaps’ single-season record of 65.
But the TinCaps (71-67, 28-41 second half) also committed three errors, something that lingered in Valentin’s mind with the playoffs so close.
We got away with it again today, he said. But we’ve got to play better baseball, especially defensively. Overall, we’ve got to pull everything together in order to beat a team like Bowling Green.
To beat the Loons (67-71, 40-28), on the other hand, they pulled enough together.
In stark contrast to Saturday night, it was the TinCaps who jumped out in front early. Smith drew a leadoff walk, stole his 63rd base, took third on a groundout and came home on Alberth Martinez’ sacrifice fly to give the TinCaps a 1-0 lead after one inning.
The leadoff guy, he sets the tone, Valentin said. He put some pressure on their defense, stole a couple bases, and he’s one of those guys that when he’s on base, he makes everybody a better hitter.
As it turned out, Smith and Co. were just getting started. Stubblefield got the TinCaps’ three-run second going with a two-out single, after which Brian Adams drew a walk. Ryan Miller brought Stubblefield around with a line drive over shortstop, Smith brought Adams home with a single between first and second and Reynaldo Bruguera chased Miller home with yet another single.
That gave Rea a four-run cushion, more than he needed on a night when he gave up just two hits.
That was a good outing by Colin, Valentin said. He gave us six solid innings. He wasn’t that sharp, but he always found a way to get out of innings.
For the TinCaps, meanwhile, the hits kept coming.
They added two more runs in the fifth when Smith drew another leadoff walk, stole his 64th base and was chased home by Bruguera’s single up the middle. And when the ball eluded Loons center fielder James Baldwin, rolling clear to the warning track, Bruguera steamed all the way around to score as well.
That jumped the lead to 6-0 and pretty much settled things.