It took close to fours on a brutally humid day, but the TinCaps outlasted the Cedar Rapids Kernels and picked up a huge victory over a good team today at Parkview Field. After Saturday's disappointing defeat, this was exactly what the team needed, another confidence boosting come-from-behind win that gives it something to build on and a chance to get on a nice roll as the season enters its later stages.
Maybe the most fitting symbol of Fort Wayne's 8-7 win over the Kernels today – besides the Gatorade bucket being dumped on Jawuan Harris after his game-winning ground ball in the bottom of the ninth – was pitchers Ryan Weathers and Joey Cantillo charting pitches in the stands while cooling themselves with handheld fans that had been handed out to those in attendance at the game. The heat was oppressive in this game and it became a war of attrition in the late innings, with both teams exhausted.
The TinCaps never stopped pushing despite the conditions. They fell behind 5-1 in the fourth inning and at that point it was almost completely silent in the stadium. It would have been fairly easy to go through the motions the rest of the afternoon, lose a third straight game and get off the field as quickly as possible. Instead, they dug deep, picked up a couple of huge hits from Harris and Juan Fernandez and scratched across six runs in the fourth inning. For a team that has been struggling for a while to get hits in big situations with runners in scoring position, this was a huge step forward.
Then came the ninth inning. The inning began with the score tied at 7, but the Kernels put runners on first and second with two outs against reliever Adrian Martinez. That brought powerful first baseman Albee Weiss, who had already homered and doubled in the game, to the plate. Weiss and Martinez battled in one of the most consequential at-bats of the game before Martinez got him swinging with a wipeout curveball in the dirt.
That set up Fort Wayne's game-winning rally in the bottom half. Justin Lopez led off with a single and Luke Becker added a bunt single before Lee Solomon laid down a sacrifice bunt to put the winning run on third with one out and Tyler Benson coming to the plate.
Benson was 3 for 3 with triple, double and a walk at that point, his first hits in the Midwest League in almost two years. The 23-year-old outfielder has played in rookie ball, Low-A and High-A since then, but he's back now and came up in the ninth needing a home run to hit for the cycle.
"That wasn't in my head," Benson said, smiling. "What was in my head was (the Kernels) brought in the left-fielder for a five-man infield and I just had to put one into left to win it. I just wanted to put the ball in play and do what I can."
Instead of a home run or a game-winning fly ball to left, Benson drew a walk. He reached base all five times he came to the plate in the game and kept the ball rolling in the the winning rally. Two batters later, Harris hit his winning ground ball to short that Wander Javier couldn't corral and Lopez scored to secure the win for the TinCaps. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.
"By any means necessary," manager Anthony Contreras said of the winning rally. "That ninth inning we just need to scratch and claw to do whatever you've gotta do to get that last run. Tremendous AB by Lopez, who hadn't been swinging the bat well to get us started with that single and then Becker to lay down that nice bunt kick-starts everything and gets the momentum and confidence going and it was a good way to finish off that game."