The atmosphere at Parkview Field tonight was one of the best of the season and those 7,333 fans that packed the downtown stadium were treated to a doozy of a baseball game.
There was a little every everything: a controversial home run call, an ejection, a masterful pitching performance, a five-run inning, another controversial home run call, another ejection and at the end of it all, a 6-3 TinCaps win that left them just one victory short of a series split against the South Bend Cubs after dropping the first three contests.
It was a rough night for the umpiring crew, which fielded vociferous arguments from both dugouts. The controversy began in the second inning. With the TinCaps trailing 1-0, Justin Lopez appeared to tie the game with a home run. The ball catapulted 10 feet into the air after it hit near the top of the wall, spinning back into the field of play. The fact that it went so bounced so high upon impact seemed to indicate it had hit the metal fencing behind the wall, which would make it a home run, but the umpires ruled it in play and Lopez settled for a double, despite a lengthy argument from manager Anthony Contreras.
Later in the inning, Tyler Malone took a 3-2 curveball that crossed the plate well above his letters for strike three. It was not the right call and TinCaps hitting coach Jonathan Mathews immediately began arguing from the dugout. He redoubled his efforts when Adam Kerner took a strike below the knees three batters later. Home plate umpire Justin Juska held up his hand to tell Mathews to stop and when he did not, Juska ejected him. That brought Mathews out on to the field, extremely animated, and Contreras had to get between the two before Mathews left the field.
Fort Wayne did not score in the inning after all that. Contreras did his best to keep his team upbeat.
"I just have to keep my cool as much as possible," the fifth-year Fort Wayne manager said. "Obviously, our hitting coach took the heat in that situation to just let the umpires know they have to be consistent and make the right calls as best they can. The game's going to be like that sometimes. But you keep being positive, you stay in the dugout, you keep taking their minds off stuff that has already happened, that they can't control and you worry about the next task at hand. (The players) did a good job of keeping their cool, regardless of what those results were in the beginning of the game and waited for their big moment."
That big moment came in the sixth, when Fort Wayne pushed across five runs on RBI hits from Tirso Ornelas, Luis Almanzar and Kerner. A throwing error from Cubs pitcher Bryan King on an utterly routine play furthered the rally, which eventually saw the TinCaps send 10 hitters to the plate and go in front 5-1.
Fort Wayne had stayed in the game until that point because of a terrific pitching performance from Moises Lugo, who went a season-high six innings and gave up only one run on two hits while striking out eight and walking one. He got a ton of swings and misses (and called strikes) with his slider, which was biting hard all night, and he worked his way out of a two-on, none-out jam in the fifth with back-to-back strikeouts to keep the score 1-0. Over his last six starts, Lugo has a 2.40 ERA and 43 strikeouts against seven walks in 30 innings. Early in the season, his command was an issue and it was holding him back, but something has clicked for him in the last month.
"He's been good," Contreras said of Lugo. "It's fun to watch him fill up the zone because he has electric stuff that can play. He just needs to be more efficient, which he has been the last few outings and he gets success when he does that, so that's good to see."
The controversy wasn't over after the TinCaps had a relatively safe lead, however. In the bottom of the seventh, Yorman Rodriguez, in his second game back with Fort Wayne after stints in Double-A and Triple-A, hit a fly ball to deep left-center. The ball appeared to land well short of home run distance and carom back into play and Rodriguez pulled into second with an apparent double, but the umpires somehow ruled it a home run. The Cubs were irate at the pretty clearly incorrect call and manager Michael Ryan was ejected after an argument. He gave the heave-ho sign back to Juska as he walked away from the plate umpire before retiring to the clubhouse. Rodriguez was credited with his fifth long ball of the season and he went 2 for 4 after also singling during the five-run sixth.
"We needed a bat after losing (Agustin) Ruiz, taking nothing away from the rest of the guys, it was a big hit losing (Ruiz)," Contreras said of the outfielder that was leading Fort Wayne in home runs and RBI before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week. "It's nice to see someone (Rodriguez) we can plug in in the middle of the lineup there and have good ABs and poke the ball around like (Ruiz) did. He might not have the home run power, but to put the ball in play, to have good ABs, it's a good visual for the rest of the lineup, as well, to know we have someone there that can pick them up."