The TinCaps were unable to grab a series victory today, settling for a split after losing to the Dayton Dragons 8-6 on an erratic day for the Fort Wayne relief corps. A trio of highly-touted newcomers from Low-A Lake Elsinore made their debuts in the defeat. Fort Wayne has split three series in a row.
How it Happened
The game was tied at 3 entering the sixth inning, but TinCaps reliever Austin Smith suffered through a nightmare frame and Dayton surged in front for good. The trouble began when, with one out, Eric Yang popped into shallow right. Right-fielder Tirso Ornelas probably should have called off second baseman Ripken Reyes going back, but Ornelas didn't take charge until it was too late and his desperate running stab came up short. Yang, hustling all the way, reached second base with a double.
That seemed to rattle Smith and he walked the next man, No. 9 hitter Jonathan Willems, on four pitches. The fourth pitch was a fastball so far outside that catcher Brandon Valenzuela, playing in his first game at High-A, was unable to corral it and it went to the backstop. That was the start of an extremely rocky stretch in which Smith threw five wild pitches before retiring the side, two of which brought in runs for the Dragons. The first of those was a bang-bang play at the plate as Valenzuela got up quickly and fired the ball to Smith covering the plate. Umpire Kellen Martin was nearly bowled over by the sliding Yang, but he saw enough of the play to call Yang safe, despite arguments from Smith. By the time Smith finally extricated himself from the inning, Dayton led 5-3.
The situation went from bad to worse in the seventh for Fort Wayne. Ramon Perez had some of the same command issues that Smith exhibited, walking a man and hitting another, sandwiched around a single, to load the bases with nobody out. He got out of the inning with minimal damage when he got Jack Rogers to ground into a 5-4-3 double play, but the twin killing did score a run to push the TinCaps deficit to three runs.
That extra run became important, because Fort Wayne sliced into the lead in the bottom of the inning. Dragons reliever Evan Kravetz, like his TinCaps counterparts, struggled to get the ball over the plate, loading the bases with three walks, including bases on balls to Hassell and Valenzuela. Justin Lopez then lifted a blooper to shallow left. It looked as though Rogers would have a chance to make a catch running in, but he pulled up and let the ball bounce in and two runs scored, bringing the hosts within 6-5.
But that wasn't enough and Dayton scored twice more in the top of the ninth as Wen-Hua Sung also struggled to throw strikes. Sung threw two more wild pitches, one of which scored a run, and also gave up an RBI single to Yang off the glove of a drawn-in Ripken Reyes at second. In the bottom of the inning, Fort Wayne put the first two runners on, but were only able to push across one run and its comeback attempt fell short.
The TinCaps had a chance to draw even or better later in the inning, when Luis Almanzar came to the plate with the bases loaded. Almanzar came into the at-bat hot, but he swung through a 95 mph fastball in the middle of the zone from Dayton's Pedro Garcia, striking out to end the threat.
The Dragons struck first in the second inning. With one out, center-fielder Allan Cerda hit a line drive to deep left. Left fielder Luis Almanzar, who is getting used to playing the outfield in recent weeks after spending most of his career on the infield, got turned around and watched the ball carom off the wall away from him. Cerda raced all the way around to third with a triple. Grant Little, who has played left most of the season for Fort Wayne, would have had a chance to catch the ball and likely would have held Cerda to a double at worst. Instead, Cerda got to third and Alex McGarry followed with a single through a drawn-in infield to make it 1-0 Dragons.
The TinCaps tied the game in the second inning when Justin Lopez singled and Luis Almanzar drove him in with a double to the base of the wall in straightaway center. Then, in the second inning, the kids got involved.
Fort Wayne had three players in its lineup this afternoon making their TinCaps debuts after getting called up from Low-A Lake Elsinore – following excellent stints there – on Saturday: leadoff hitter Robert Hassell III, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft, No. 2 batter Euribiel Angeles and Valenzuela. In the third inning, Angeles walked to put two on with one out. After Tirso Ornelas flew out deep to right, Valenzuela got in on the action, dumping a soft single the other way into left field that brought in Reyes from second with the go-ahead run.
The lead was short-lived, however. The Dragons chased Guarate in the fourth inning with four straight hits after the 20-year-old right-hander retired the leadoff man. Yang had an RBI single to deadlock the score at 2 and Willems followed with a ground ball down the third-base line just barely out of the reach of a diving Angeles that ended up rattling around in the Dayton bullpen for an RBI double to make it 3-2. That ended Guarate's day and Felix Minjarez entered the game, doing a terrific job to hold the score where it was after inheriting runners on second and third one out. He struck out Michael Siani for the second frame and induced a ground ball from Jacob Hurtubise to end the inning.
Fort Wayne was not deterred by its second deficit of the day and evened the score in the bottom of the fifth. It was a two-out rally as Valenzuela drew a free pass with two away and Lopez followed with a double to the gap in right-center that brought the new TinCaps catcher all the way around from first to score.
Player of the Game: Justin Lopez
Lopez is a streaky hitter and after some quiet weeks, he has put together a red-hot stretch recently. That continued today, when he went 3 for 4 with a double, a run scored and four RBI. In the ninth, Lopez came to the plate with two on and he hit a blistering line drive to left, but it hung up and was caught, turning into a sacrifice fly. It was his first three-hit game since July 13. In the last two games, Lopez has five hits, three for extra bases and seven RBI (nine RBI in the last three games). The shortstop has five multi-hit games in his last eight contests.
The TinCaps entered the game in fourth place in the High-A Central East Division, three games behind third-place Dayton. ... Manager Anthony Contreras returned to the dugout after hitting coach Jonathan Mathews had been the acting manager for the first five games of the series as Contreras got some time off. ... The TinCaps have not won a home series since the first series of the season against West Michigan. They have lost one and split seven since then. They have not won four games in a series at Parkview Field all season (the West Michigan series included a rainout and Fort Wayne won it 3-2). ... Hassell III went 0 for 4 with a walk and a run scored. He hit the ball hard twice for outs. Angeles was 1 for 4 with a walk and a run scored. ... Valenzuela had the best day at the plate of the newcomers, walking twice and driving in a run with a single. He also committed a throwing error. ... Reyes was hit by a pitch twice. He has been hit by a pitch in four consecutive games and six times in the series. As a team, the TinCaps were hit 11 times in the set. ... The Fort Wayne pitching staff unleashed seven wild pitches. Three of them scored runs. ... Starting pitchers Guarate and Carson Spiers faced off for the fourth time this season, all since July 20. ... Padres reliever Trey Wingenter did not pitch in the game. Wingenter was scheduled to make a one-inning rehab appearance with Fort Wayne this week as he comes back from Tommy John surgery, but he did not pitch as scheduled in the game Thursday, which was rained out, and has not appeared in any of the subsequent games. ... It was Military Appreciation Day at Parkview Field.
The TinCaps are off Monday and open a six-game series against the Great Lakes Loons on Tuesday at Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan. The Loons entered Sunday tied for first in the East Division and two games back of the final league playoff spot. Fort Wayne will return to Parkview Field for the final home series of the year starting Sept. 7 against the Lansing Lugnuts.