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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Fort Wayne's Jorge Ona keeps his eye on a high pitch in the fourth inning of the Midwest League Championship Series opener against Quad Cities at Parkview Field on Wednesday.

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette TinCaps starter Pedro Avila allowed six runs in his six innings of work, but did strike out 12 Quad Cities batters on Wednesday.

  • TinCaps' Nate Easley is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a home run in the first inning to plate two of the team's three runs.

Thursday, September 14, 2017 1:00 am

Doomed from get-go

5-run 1st propels Bandits to 1-0 lead in championship series

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

TinCaps vs. Quad Cities

What: Midwest League Championship Series

Series: Best of 5

Game 1: River Bandits 6, TinCaps 3

Game 2: 7:05 p.m. today at Parkview Field

Game 3: 7:35 p.m. Saturday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 4 (if necessary): 6:15 p.m. Sunday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 5 (if necessary): 7:35 p.m. Monday in Davenport, Iowa

Before anybody could blink, the TinCaps were down five runs, and they never recovered.

With the Midwest League Championship Series back at Parkview Field for the first time since 2012, Quad Cities quickly dampened Fort Wayne's enthusiasm, riding a five-run, first-inning wave to a 6-3 victory Wednesday night in Game 1 of this best-of-five showdown.

“That is tough to dig out of that hole when you go down 5-0,” said Nate Easley, who mashed a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning that represented what proved to be false hope.

Pedro Avila struck out one hitter after another, 12 in all, but still didn't resemble the pitcher Fort Wayne was so comfortable sending to the mound in Game 1. He couldn't contain the River Bandits' early ambush.

Back-to-back singles to start the contest set up Chuckie Robinson's RBI groundout, followed by Abraham Toro's RBI triple off a fastball and J.J. Matijevic's three-run homer on a 91 mph fastball.

“They're a good fastball-hitting team,” TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. “Both those shots in the first inning were fastballs right over the heart of the plate, and we knew going into it you couldn't do that with these guys.”

Avila would bounce back to complete six innings, but he gave up six runs on seven hits, the second-most runs of his professional career.

“Avila has great stuff,” Quad Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said. “We got a quick six runs, but I was glad we jumped on him in the first because that guy shut us out (after that).”

Almost. Robinson, a hard-hitting catcher who had 15 homers in the regular season, would smack a hanging curveball over the left-field fence in the third to make it 6-2.

Fort Wayne's offense actually handled starter Cristian Javier, who had a 1.01 ERA in his final five starts of the regular season. He went 32/3 innings and gave up three runs on five hits with six strikeouts, forced out by a pitch count that reached 85.

Any momentum generated by Justin Lopez' fourth-inning RBI single, pulling the TinCaps within 6-3, was snuffed out by terrific work from the River Bandits' bullpen. Winning pitcher Jesus Balaguer had seven strikeouts in three innings, and Robert Corniel gave up one hit as he recorded the final seven outs for a save.

“Good pitchers,” Contreras said. “They were getting us to chase out of the zone. You've got to stay with your approach. You're down three like that, and you feel that sense of urgency. You need to be able to calm that down.”

Speaking of urgency, tonight's Game 2 is Fort Wayne's last home game before the remainder of the series shifts to Davenport, Iowa.

“Never press,” Easley said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”

Notes: Jordan Guerrero, a reliever who had not appeared this postseason, was removed from the TinCaps' roster to clear a spot for Avila's re-addition. ... Colin Moran, an infielder from the River Bandits' parent club, the Houston Astros, will continue his minor league rehabilitation assignment for the duration of this series, Quad Cities said. He went 2 for 3 with a walk in Game 1.