SOUTH BEND –
How it Happened
The early innings were a pitcher's duel. Both teams were swinging early in counts after the lengthy rain delay that started the game, trying to speed things along. TinCaps pitcher Edwuin Bencomo, getting a spot start, stepped up in a big moment, holding the Cubs scoreless through three innings and striking two out in those innings, one more than Fort Wayne struck out in the entire game Sunday. His fastball sat 88-91 mph and he was spotting his changeup well.
Fort Wayne's offense was unable to get anything going, either, through four innings. In the bottom of the fourth, the Cubs finally pushed across a run. Nelson Velazquez got the rally started, lashing a sharp single to center on an 0-2 pitch. Bencomo then made one of his few mistakes, unleashing a wild pitch that moved Velazquez to second. The right-hander almost got out of the inning, but with two outs Yonathan Perlaza blooped a short fly to left. Tyler Benson nearly had it, but decided to pull up and let it fall, bringing in the game's first run. Perlaza's hit was also on a two-strike pitch.
The TinCaps deficit did not last long. In the top of the fifth, against reliever Fauris Guerrero, Fort Wayne catcher Juan Fernandez got a pitch on the inner third and didn't miss it, crushing it on a dead line to left field for a solo home run. The ball jumped off his bat at 102 mph and knotted the score at 1. The next hitter, Ethan Skender hit a ball that seemed headed for the exact same spot. He seemed to think he'd hit a home run and hesitated at home for a split second, but the ball instead slammed off the wall and Skender cruised into second with a double. Lee Solomon followed with a bunt that the infield couldn't handle, turning it into a single and putting runners on first and third with nobody out.
Kelvin Alarcon, playing just his second game in the Midwest League, had a chance to drive in the go-ahead run and he did, in a way. He hit the ball hard, but directly at the second baseman and it turned into a 4-6-3 double play. Still, Skender scored to give the TinCaps their first lead of the night, 2-1.
The TinCaps held their lead into the eighth inning, but had a scare in the seventh. With two outs and a runner on first, Darius Hill hit a fly ball to left-center. It looked to be headed for the gap and a potential game-tying double, but center-fielder Jawuan Harris raced over and made a terrific diving catch to end the inning and preserve the lead.
In the eighth, Fort Wayne added an insurance run thanks in part to some more terrific baserunning, continuing a trend from the whole series. Benson started things off with a one-out walk. Agustin Ruiz hit next and as he was batting a pitch bounced past the catcher to the screen. The Cubs backstop couldn't find it and Benson rounded second hard, never breaking stride and racing all the way to third. He then scored when Michael Curry grounded a single to left field to make it 3-1.
The Fort Wayne bullpen handled the rest, with the help of Fernandez. The Fort Wayne catcher saved a run in the eighth on a pop fly with two outs. He misjudged the ball slightly, but launched his body all the way backward and snow-coned the ball, which would have fallen in fair territory and scored a run.
The TinCaps bullpen did the rest, with Cody Tyler and Mason Fox combining to toss four shutout innings.
Player of the Game: Edwuin Bencomo
Bencomo went five innings, giving up one run on five hits while striking out three and walking one. It was his first start of the season and first overall since July 6, 2018. He had only made three previous starts in four pro seasons. The TinCaps needed a big start from the young right-hander and he delivered, earning his first win of the season.
Facts and Figures
The game started after a 70-minute rain delay. ... The TinCaps leave South Bend six games back of the Cubs for the final Eastern Division playoff spot. ... Fort Wayne is 13-12 at home in the second half, but only 8-17 on the road despite the win. ... Skender went 2 for 4 with two doubles and is hitting .307 with Fort Wayne. It is the first time he has had multiple extra-base hits in a game in 37 games as a pro. ... Solomon went 2 for 4. ... Fernandez's home run was his second of the season. He also walked in the game. ... Cubs starter Carlos Vega was making the first start of his career after 18 relief appearances over the last two seasons. ... Tyler worked three shutout innings, striking out four and walking none. ... Fox earned his second save of the season and first with Fort Wayne. He's struck out 10 of the 17 hitters he's faced in the Midwest League and hasn't given up a run in five innings with the TinCaps.
The TinCaps have a day off before opening a three-game series against the Lansing Lugnuts on Wednesday at Cooley Law School Stadium in Michigan. The Lugnuts are between the TinCaps and the Cubs in the Eastern Division standings. Fort Wayne will send 20-year-old left-hander Omar Cruz (2-1, 3.34 ERA) to the mound in the series-opener. Cruz is striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings in his six Midwest League starts.