Before the TinCaps' doubleheader against West Michigan on Sunday, I wrote that they'd need to perform better in the clutch in order to salvage something from this second-half-opening four-game series.
They did that and then some Sunday, going 6 for 13 with runners in scoring position and blasting two three-run homers, one from outfielder Tirso Ornelas and another from shortstop Justin Lopez, the youngest player in the league.
The result was a pair of relatively easy victories, 8-3 and 6-3, and a series split against the Whitecaps to begin the second half. Jack Suwinski was the star at the plate, going 4 for 5 with a home run of his own as well as a double and three runs scored.
"All year we've wanted (Suwinski) to be more aggressive on the fastball, be able to work out front with his barrel and today was a good example of that," manager Anthony Contreras said. "He's learning what it takes to compete at this level. He's still a young kid even though this is his second year here and he's making strides, he's getting results."
It wasn't just the hitters that excelled for Fort Wayne, however. The TinCaps got two solid starts from Mason Thompson and Tom Cosgrove, who both completed five innings and gave up just four runs between them.
"For those guys to go five-plus (innings) like that it helps us out tremendously," Contreras said. "They were aggressive. Thompson was aggressive in the zone, Cosgrove's curveball looked really good today, he was dropping it in for strikes when he wanted to. They just gave us opportunities, that's all we ask for."
Thompson especially had terrific stuff, striking out a career-high seven hitters, including four with four different pitches – fastball, curveball, slider, changeup, in that order – in the first two innings. Once again, the difference between his fastball (mid-90s) and his curveball (low-70s) was often more than 20 mph and he used that differential to keep hitters off balance.
Pitch mix is key for Thompson and when he's throwing all of his pitches for strikes, he's dominant.
"I think (mixing pitches) is huge," he said. "When you go out there and have a team that's as good at swinging the bat as they are, you gotta go out there and give it your best stuff. I felt like I was able to do that today."
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the contributions of outfielder Robbie Podorsky, who has been a team sparkplug of late. The 5-foot-7 speedster reached base four times – twice on errors he partly caused by making the fielder rush – scored a run, stole a base and made a great diving catch in center on a sinking line drive. He just has so much energy that it seems to be infectious for this TinCaps team. When he's at bat or on base, something spectacular always seems on the verge of happening. He's now hitting .333 in 28 games with Fort Wayne.
The TinCaps are 5-2 on their 10-game homestand, with three more games to go against a red-hot Bowling Green team. The Hot Rods saw a 13-game win streak end on Saturday, but they'll enter Parkview Field with plenty of confidence. After seeing the bats wake up today, Fort Wayne probably will, too.