The TinCaps already have a nine-run comeback on their résumé this season. A 13-run deficit proved to be too much against the Dayton Dragons tonight.
To its credit, Fort Wayne didn't quit after falling behind 13-0 in the second inning. The TinCaps surrendered six runs in the first and seven more in the second before righting the ship and giving up just one tally in the final seven innings. The hitters remained professional at the plate and made the final score a semi-respectable 14-7.
That's little consolation for a team that has now lost four games in a row, but it's encouraging to see that these guys are still playing for something. Mired in last place, trailing by double digits in the second inning, coming off a long bus trip after a night game Friday, it would have been easy to just go through the motions. Instead, they grinded at-bats, Brandon Komar ate five innings and the series is still salvageable. Tucupita Marcano laid down a near-perfect bunt in the ninth inning and came within a hair of reaching with a hit. That's not the type of play you usually see in a seven-run game, but it's a good play.
Still, those early innings were brutal. Brian Rey, the Dayton left-fielder, hit a grand slam in the first inning and added a three-run double in the second, finishing the night with eight RBI, a Dayton Dragons record. He struck out in his final two at-bats, falling short of the Midwest League record, which stands at 10. His early heroics pushed the TinCaps into a 13-0 hole before they even came to bat in the second inning.
"It's, I don't want to say shocking, but you could say shocking in a way," Michael Curry said of the big deficit. "But, it's baseball. That's the crazy thing, if you look at the game, we really didn't play that bad of a baseball game. ... At the end of the day, we almost had the same amount of hits, we put up (seven runs), we played solid baseball. Just one guy on their team had eight RBI by himself. That says something.
"Getting jumped on that early, it's tough, but like (manager Anthony Contreras) said, we tried to stay professional and just make every (at-bat) count."
Komar in particular played an important role in this game, pitching a season-high five innings in relief and throwing 93 pitches after starter Efrain Contreras didn't record an out. Komar gave up eight runs, but he was able to save the bullpen for the next couple of games and make sure tonight doesn't snowball into Sunday and Monday. He had to wear it in that second inning, but he did so with poise.
"You gotta tip your cap to Komar for being able to pick up the team and go five innings like that," Contreras said. "It's not an easy task. ... That doesn't go unnoticed and people have to understand that. He saves a bullpen by doing that, picking us up. It can get really sloppy, we've seen it before, you use a whole bullpen in the first game of a series and then you're having to shoot guys in and out (to different minor-league levels)."
After the second inning, the bullpen had a solid day. Following Komar, Austin Smith pitched three shutout innings and struck out five while giving up just one hit and one walk. Edwuin Bencomo might have had the most impressive performance of all, pitching a scoreless inning and striking out two on just seven total pitches, six of which were changeups and all seven of which were strikes.
Bencomo has a filthy changeup that breaks late and dives toward the dirt and it looks nearly identical to his fastball out of his hand. The fastball isn't great, but the changeup is so good it ties hitters in knots trying to guess which is coming. The 20-year-old right-hander has pitched five straight scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts in those innings, and is quickly becoming an important bullpen arm.
"I think he's starting to get comfortable and understand what he does good: he throws a really good changeup," Anthony Contreras said. "He threw six in a row (in the ninth). ... We'll look to utilize him the best way we can. Hopefully it's in higher-leverage situations than down 14-7."
The TinCaps don't have much time to let this loss sink in. They're back with a day game Sunday, hoping to snap this four-game losing streak and make today's bullpen effort worth it.