The TinCaps have made a habit of late comeback victories in the second half of the season and they almost pulled out another come-from-behind win tonight against first-place Bowling Green.
After entering the ninth inning trailing by three runs, the TinCaps pushed across two and nearly had a third when Ethan Skender was thrown out trying to score from first on a double. That was the third out of the game and the TinCaps fell to the Hot Rods 4-3 in the third straight tightly-contested game between these teams.
Manager Anthony Contreras obviously was disappointed in the loss, but he seemed proud of the way his team fought in the late innings. Falling behind 4-0 two innings in doesn't usually make for a successful night, especially after the opponent pounded eight hits in those two innings, but Fort Wayne almost overcame that early deficit.
"What I'm happy with is the way the team responded after the first two innings," Contreras said. "Earlier in the year, we go down 4-0 and I wouldn't say we'd fold, but we'd lose some confidence, you're like, 'Oh, here we go again.' ... That's what I told them after the game, is your opportunity is the biggest thing. You don't know when it's going to come. We had an opportunity in that eighth or ninth thing and you have to make the most of it."
The TinCaps got to the ninth inning within striking distance because Edwuin Bencomo settled down after those two rough early innings and got through four and the bullpen pitched shutout innings.
The bottom of the ninth inning was a wild ride. It started with a bang as designated hitter Michael Curry ripped a home run to left-center, his eighth of the season. He's been red-hot recently and went 2 for 3 with a walk tonight, extending his hitting streak to seven games. He has three straight two-hit games and his batting average is up to .295. The only out he made tonight was a blistering line drive directly at the shortstop.
"He's not gonna cut it short on swings, he's going to take his hacks," Contreras said of Curry. "He sees a ball around his zone, he's going to hack at it, he's not a passive hitter by any means. He's super strong and he has the ability to punch the ball out there. ... He's an aggressive hitter, we always want to see a little bit more discipline in some areas, but he's hitting .290-plus right now and he's a good, solid hitter in the middle of our lineup."
After Curry's long ball, Justin Lopez kept the rally going with a double into the right-field corner, his third extra-base hit in two games. Dwanya Williams-Sutton got hit on the ankle with a slider (what else is new?), putting the tying run on base with nobody out. That brought Juan Fernandez to the plate. Fernandez has been clutch all season, but this time he was unable to get a bunt down and ended up popping the bunt up with two strikes. As hot as he's been, I might have had him swinging away, especially with two strikes, but it turned into a big play either way. Skender then pinch-hit and chopped into a fielder's choice, putting two on with two out for Jawuan Harris. Harris had already tripled in the eighth and he appeared locked in. On the first pitch, he ripped a double to left field, setting the wild final play in motion.
"Fastball," Harris said of what he was looking for in the ninth inning. "I knew (pitcher Joel Peguero) was going to give me something over the plate and I was ready to ambush it. I choked up a little bit, just trying to take a nice, easy swing and I was able to get out in front of the ball and put it down the line."
I thought Skender would score relatively easily after Jordan Qsar bobbled the ball in left (Contreras thought so, as well), but catcher Roberto Alvarez did an excellent job of blocking the plate. Alvarez spiked the ball and pumped his fist after the call was made – it took coordination and strength to hang on to that ball – and the TinCaps' comeback fell just short.
The defensive highlight of the game for Fort Wayne came in the eighth inning. With a runner on first, catcher Roberto Alvarez grounded up the middle. Shortstop Tucupita Marcano ranged far to his left, gloved the ball with a desperate stab and then flipped it from his glove, behind his back on the dead run to Ripken Reyes waiting at second for the force. It was the type of play you have to see several times on replay to really digest how spectacular it was. It was a Sportscenter-level play and, along with the comeback, it made the loss sting just a little less.