The TinCaps didn't win either of the final two games in this series against Bowling Green, but they certainly made them interesting. After roaring back to within inches of a win Monday, Fort Wayne scored a run in the eighth and three more in the ninth tonight to turn a five-run deficit into one before Chris Givin struck out swinging to end the game with the tying run on second. Bowling Green earned a split of the series with the 6-5 victory.
It's clear that the TinCaps aren't intimidated by large deficits in the late innings, but tonight there was a little bit more of a feeling that one got away. On Monday, Fort Wayne played catch-up all night and the two-run rally in the ninth felt like the dam finally breaking. Tonight, the TinCaps led by a run into the seventh inning before the Hot Rods exploded for six runs to take a commanding lead. Fort Wayne had had plenty of chances to add to its lead before that six-run seventh, putting runners in scoring position in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth without scoring. So, the comeback was impressive, but it might not have been necessary had the game gone differently in the early and middle innings.
"It's always nice to see (a comeback), I don't want to downplay that by any means," manager Anthony Contreras said. "What's more important is understanding missed opportunities prior to that. It stings a little bit more when you get that close, knowing the stuff that didn't happen. But, it's something to talk about tomorrow, try to fix the mistakes."
The TinCaps' star on offense was left-fielder Michael Curry, once again. I've written repeatedly about Curry recently, but he deserves all of the (digital) ink that has been spilled. He went 2 for 3 tonight with two walks, including one in the ninth inning that kept the rally going. Curry has had hits in eight straight games and has reached base in 12 straight, both season-highs. He's hitting an even .300 with the TinCaps this season and is among the league leaders in OPS since the middle of May. It's been a special season for the 22-year-old outfielder.
"Just trying to keep my approach as simple as possible," Curry said of his recent success. "Stay consistent. The main thing, I say it all the time, is just compete, be competitive in the box. Just trying to stay cool as a cucumber. One-on-one mentality, me and the pitcher, just get my job done at the plate."
Curry even went 1 for 2 with a walk against Bowling Green starter Shane Baz, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2017 draft and a top prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Baz hit 99 mph repeatedly with his fastball and Curry and Ethan Skender were really the only hitters to have much success against him. Fort Wayne had hit against him before, but it never gets easier facing a pitcher with that much velocity and a sharp curveball to go with it. Baz gave up one run in five innings, striking out seven and walking two.
"We knew that (Baz) was going to come with a live fastball and I think when guys know that, their awareness gets heightened and their focus gets heightened," Contreras said. "They compete. He's a first-rounder for a reason, he has a live arm. You have to be able to dial in on your zone and you can't swing out of it and give him pitches, because he has stuff to get you out and blow you away with. When you get your pitch, you can't miss it."
So ends the penultimate homestand of the TinCaps' 2019 season. They head out for their final road trip Wednesday, traveling to Dayton for three games and then West Michigan for four before returning to Parkview Field for the final six games of the season. It's been an up-and-down season in Fort Wayne, but for the players, it's gone quickly.
"This is my first full season (in pro baseball) and it was the blink of an eye," Curry said. "For some reason, last year (a partial season after he was drafted in June) felt longer. This year, it's been a ball. It's been quite an adventure. Lots of ups and downs and whatnot, but yeah, the last road trip, so it's been a hell of a year, just have to finish strong."