The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 09, 2021 1:10 am

TinCaps beat Lansing, 2-1, on Alarcon's winning hit

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps let chance after chance slip away until it really mattered, when Kelvin Alarcon bounced a bases-loaded single into center with two outs in the bottom of the seventh that brought Ripken Reyes and Jonny Homza, the latter sliding feet first just ahead of a relay throw, in to score, giving Fort Wayne a 2-1 win in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Parkview Field tonight.

How it Happened

The TinCaps came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh trailing by a run after letting a plethora of scoring opportunities go by the board in earlier innings. They made one last push for a run in their final at-bat, getting off to an auspicious start when Tirso Ornelas led off the inning with a single. Catcher Brandon Valenzuela followed with another single to left; either of the hits might have been caught if Lansing had been playing at normal depth in the outfield, but instead it was playing remarkably deep, only a few steps in front of the warning track.

Justin Lopez followed the hits with a walk to load the bases, but the TinCaps nearly let yet another chance get away when Homza and Chris Givin each grounded into force-outs, with the Lugnuts getting the out at home two plays in a row. That left the game in the hands of Alarcon, who delivered.

When the game began, it took just four pitches for Lansing to take the lead. On a 1-2 count, Lugnuts leadoff hitter Shane Selman unloaded on a pitch from right-hander Felix Minjarez, ripping a frozen rope that screamed out of the ballpark and on to the concourse in left field for a leadoff home run and a 1-0 Lansing lead.

From there, the game became a pitchers' duel. Minjarez walked the second batter of the game and then Cobie Vance hit a line drive to left, but Reinaldo Ilarraza made a nice sliding catch for the first out. That seemed to settle down Minjarez, who is usually a long reliever, somewhat and he retired the next six hitters in a row, striking out four of them. All four of those strikeouts were swinging whiffs as the 24-year-old righty mixed a low-90s fastball with a sharp-breaking slider in the low 80s. 

As Minjarez was settling in, the TinCaps were giving themselves chances to score. In the first inning, Lopez grounded into a forceout with two on. In the second, Reinaldo Ilarraza struck out after Alarcon had doubled with two away. In the third, Euribiel Angeles smashed a double down the third-base line that brought slugger Tirso Ornelas to the plate with one out, but Ornelas struck out and Valenzuela grounded out to end the frame.

The fourth inning presented a golden opportunity for the TinCaps to get an equalizer. Lopez started the frame with a ringing double to the deepest part of left-center that one-hopped the wall. After Homza struck out, Givin finally delivered the hit the TinCaps needed with a runner in scoring position, lacing a single to right field. Unfortunately for Fort Wayne, the ball was hit too hard and Lopez had to stop at third. That left things up to Alarcon, who struck out. Ilarraza then flew out to end the frame. 

Fort Wayne gave itself yet another opportunity in the fifth. Robert Hassell III, the No. 8 pick in the 2020 draft, started the uprising with a sharp single back through the middle. Angeles batted next and was hit in the ribs for the second time tonight, leaving him wincing for several moments before walking slowly up the first base line. Two batters later, Valenzuela walked to load the bases with one out. That brought up Lopez, but he whiffed on a low changeup and Homza then did the same, leaving all three runners stranded. Homza is 3 for 43 since Aug. 6.

The parade of missed opportunities continued in the sixth. After Wen-Hua Sung had escaped from a two-on, one-out jam in the top half, the TinCaps looked like they would go quietly in the bottom of the frame as the first two hitters were retired. But  Ilarraza, still grinding at-bats, worked a walk and Hassell banged a single on the ground into center to put runners on the corners with two out. Hassell eventually stole second to put the go-ahead run in scoring position, but Angeles, who had been seeing the ball well game, whiffed at back-to-back curveballs after getting ahead 3-1 to end the inning.

Player of the Game: Euribiel Angeles

Despite his strikeout in the sixth, Angeles continued his hot start with the TinCaps. He went 2 for 3 with a double and a hit-by-pitch, his second HBP of the night. The 19-year-old infielder, who was leading Low-A West in hitting at .343 before getting promoted to Fort Wayne on Aug. 28, is hitting .344 in his first eight games with the TinCaps and getting on base at a .432 rate.

Extra Innings

The TinCaps and Lugnuts have identical 52-58 records and are tied for fifth in the six-team High-A Central East Division. ... The teams played a twin bill tonight because Tuesday's game was rained out. Per MiLB rules on doubleheaders, both games were seven innings. The Lugnuts won the first game 7-3. ... The Lugnuts have played three doubleheaders in the last week. ... Fort Wayne went 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position. ... Minjarez was making his second start of the season, both coming in the last two weeks and both during doubleheaders. He pitched more than two innings in an appearance for the first time since June 8, tossing three innings and giving up one run on two hits while striking out four. ... Ornelas went 1 for 4. He is working on a nine-game hitting streak. ... TinCaps reliever Austin Smith pitched two shutout innings, retiring all six hitters he faced. He threw 15 pitches, 13 for strikes. Smith's fellow Fort Wayne right-hander, Kevin Kopps, the 2021 Golden Spikes Award winner at Arkansas as the best player in college baseball, pitched a scoreless seventh, striking out two. He earned the victory, his first as a pro. He has pitched seven shutout innings with the TinCaps in seven appearances, striking out eight and giving up two hits. ... TinCaps pitchers retired nine hitters in a row after Selman singled in the third. ... Prior to the games, the TinCaps announced that the Padres had sent Arizona Complex League catcher Victor Duarte to Fort Wayne. Duarte hit .176 with a .528 OPS in 12 games with the ACL Padres and threw out four of 14 would-be base-stealers. 

What's Next?

These teams will meet again Thursday for the third matchup in this six-game series at Parkview Field. First pitch will be at 7:05 p.m. The TinCaps will send 22-year-old left-hander Noel Vela (0-2, 2.39 ERA) to the mound. In his last five starts, Vela has a 1.21 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings, including 4 2/3 shutout innings with seven whiffs in his most recent start, against first-place Great Lakes. The Lugnuts will counter with 24-year-old right-hander Reid Birlingmair (3-9, 4.65 ERA). Birlingmair pitched six shutout innings in a start against Fort Wayne in May, but the TinCaps chased him after 2 1/3 innings in late July.

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