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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, September 14, 2017 12:30 am

Game 1 defeat not a backbreaker for TinCaps

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

So what? No big deal. Been there, done that. Brush it off and move on.

In a nutshell, that was how the TinCaps reacted Wednesday night following a 6-3 loss to Quad Cities in Game 1 of the Midwest League Championship Series.

Who, us? Sweat? Not after rallying from a 1-0 deficit to beat Dayton in the best-of-three Eastern Division Championship Series.

"That was huge," outfielder Nate Easley said. "This is a lot of players' first time in playoff baseball in pro ball, so the fact that we could go down 1-0 in the series and take two in a row to get here is huge to give us a lot more confidence."

Predictably, neither Easley nor manager Anthony Contreras would throw a must-win label on Thursday night's Game 2, but let's not kid ourselves. That's the side effect of losing Wednesday, considering Game 2 is Fort Wayne's final home game in this best-of-five series.

Does anyone want to ponder the prospect of trailing two games to none and needing to win three at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa?

"Obviously, we want to win to split it 1-1 going to their place," Contreras said. "We just have to go about our business the right way and get that win."

Let's consider a few opening trends that must flip, or continue, for Fort Wayne to take this series:

* Quad Cities' offense had seven hits and two walks, which doesn't amount to a great output, but two hitters, for the most part, set the table for everything. Leadoff man Chas McCormick finished 2 for 4, and No. 2 batter Colin Moran went 2 for 3 with a walk. If the TinCaps don't find a way to get McCormick and Moran out, Quad Cities will probably own the George H. Spelius Championship Trophy by week's end.

* Fort Wayne stole 126 bases in the regular season, more than all but four clubs in the 16-team Midwest League. On Wednesday night, the TinCaps didn't run even once. Granted, an early 5-0 deficit likely had a lot to do with that. When you're down three runs or more, the risk of being thrown out tends to outweigh the benefit of moving up an extra 90 feet.

That being said, aggression on the base paths is a trait Fort Wayne must put to use.

* When the River Bandits go to their top relievers, the TinCaps' offense can't fade to black. Jesus Balaguer and Robert Corniel combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in Game 1.

"Bullpen was outstanding tonight," Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said. "I thought the usage of them in the right times to come in (was) with runners in scoring position."

In the fourth inning, Balaguer entered with men at first and third and struck out Easley for the third out. With two outs in the seventh, Balaguer had surpassed 50 pitches, so Steinhorn called on Corniel to face Brad Zunica one runner on base.

"We wanted to bring in Corniel to get that quick out and move on to the eighth," Steinhorn said. "Lockdowns in the pen when you have the lead, that's what you need to close it out."

* On the positive side, we liked how easily Jim McDade kept the score 6-3. Three shutout innings in his first outing of the postseason? Not bad, and it kept the rest of Fort Wayne's bullpen fresh for Game 2.

* Also promising were a pair of offensive performances. Justin Lopez went 2 for 4 with an RBI single off the base wall in right-center field, a hit that might have been a double if Lopez ran a bit harder out of the batter's box. Nonetheless, that kind of contribution from Fort Wayne's No. 9 hitter is something to build on. At the top of the lineup, Jack Suwinski went 1 for 3 with two walks, the first walks he has drawn this postseason. Suwinski entered Wednesday with a 3-for-20 playoff ledger, so this could signal a turnaround.