The usual rule among media at sporting events is "No cheering in the press box." I kept to that rule tonight, but I will admit I started laughing out loud when Great Lakes brought in left-fielder Chris Roller to pitch with two outs in the ninth and the Loons in front 16-7.
It wasn't so much that there was a position player pitching (Roller was the fourth position player to get work on the mound in this series alone), but that Roller had clearly not pitched in a long time, if ever. He eventually threw 17 pitches, 16 of which missed the strike zone low and well outside. Over and over again Roller hit the same spot, two feet off the plate away. It was then that I broke decorum and started laughing.
I was laughing because it was absurd, ridiculous that it had come to this. The TinCaps, who seemed to have some momentum as recently as four days ago, have now played two of their worst games of the season on back-to-back nights. Tonight's drubbing at the hands of Great Lakes – Fort Wayne's sixth straight loss against the Loons – finished with a score of 16-9, but it wasn't even that close. The TinCaps scored four runs in the ninth thanks in part to Roller's "pitching."
The loss means Fort Wayne is 3-8 in the second half. With Dayton's win tonight, that record leaves the TinCaps all alone in the cellar of the Eastern Division. All season long, the expectation has been that this would be another season in which the TinCaps experienced growing pains in the first half and then got hot in the second half to contend for a playoff spot. That has been the pattern over the last several years with these ultra-young teams.
It still may be this year, as well. Maybe once the TinCaps are finally done playing the Loons every other game (they play Great Lakes three more times starting Saturday), they'll finally be able to relax and get back on track. But right now, they're playing the worst baseball I've seen in my two seasons covering the team. They made five errors tonight, they gave up three home runs, they weren't crisp on the field in the slightest. It was a miserable series at Parkview Field and the hope has to be that getting away for a couple of days will help the team get back on track and get some of their confidence to return.
Fort Wayne came into this game looking to salvage one victory in this series, to avoid being swept at home for the first time in close to two months. Instead, it was embarrassed for the second straight day. Two errors in a four-run Great Lakes first inning set the tone and the TinCaps were never really in the game.
Anthony Contreras has been adept at keeping his teams motivated throughout his tenure in Fort Wayne. This group has received more than its share of stern talkings-to and "message" speeches from the manager this season. At some point, the players have to be able to motivate themselves. It's a good group with a ton of talent and there's really no reason it should be playing this way. All there is to do is laugh.