The TinCaps dropped their fourth game in the last five contests tonight, falling to the Lansing Lugnuts 7-4 in a matchup that looked like it was over by the fourth inning. But Fort Wayne made it somewhat interesting with a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth to cut a six-run deficit in half and it would have brought the tying run to the plate in the final inning had a screaming line drive off the bat of Chris Givin not hung in the air long enough for Lansing center-fielder Austin Beck to run it down and end the game.
Fort Wayne lost the game, but the comeback was the most indicative part of the contest. Despite only having single-digit games left in the season, the TinCaps by and large are continuing to grind out at-bats, even when they trail late in games. That was what allowed them to comeback and win the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader (Kelvin Alarcon's walk-off single in the seventh capped a nearly 20-minute rally and gave Fort Wayne a hard-earned split) and it was what got them within striking distance tonight. Continuing to put together good at-bats and take the process of playing the game seriously is what manager Anthony Contreras said was No. 1 on his wish list for the last few weeks of the season back in late August.
"I just think everybody plays all nine," said center-fielder Robert Hassell III, who had two hits, an RBI, a run scored and a walk tonight. "We have a really competitive team that likes winning and hates losing, so that's always good. We can just tell in the dugout. Down five, six runs like we were there in the last inning, it still felt like we had a chance. Just up and down (the roster), pitchers, hitters, coaches, everything, we really like to win and we all hate losing more than we even like to win."
Hassell and fellow recent Low-A Lake Elsinore call-ups Angel Solarte and Euribiel Angeles, all younger than 21 years old, combined to get on base seven times with four hits, two walks and a hit by pitch (the HBP went to Angeles, who has been plunked in all three games in this series and was none too pleased about getting hit in the back tonight after taking two in the ribs in Wednesday's doubleheader). In addition to those standouts, catcher Victor Duarte, another recent call-up, made his TinCaps debut tonight and he added two hits, as well. The Fort Wayne roster has turned over significantly in the final month of the season and the players the Padres have sent the TinCaps have been a big boost to the lineup.
"I really have enjoyed my time here so far," Hassell said. "I like being around the team and the coaches. Everyone's been very welcoming. Offensively, I feel good, I'm still trying to settle in, I'm missing some pitches, but overall I feel really good. I do feel good at the plate, just missing some pitches, but that will change."
If Hassell feels he's been missing some pitches in his first week-plus at High-A, that should make pitchers very nervous, because he's still hitting .279 in Fort Wayne and getting on base at a .354 clip with a slugging percentage well above .500. Of course, that slugging percentage was helped immensely when Hassell became just the third player in Fort Wayne franchise history to hit three home runs in a game. He accomplished the feat in just his third outing with the TinCaps, last week against Great Lakes.
"I remember after my second (home run), I told (catcher Brandon) Valenzuela, maybe I was joking maybe I wasn't, but I was like, 'Man, I got one more. My game's not over yet,'" Hassell said, laughing. "Then it happened and we had a laugh about it after."
The TinCaps also got a good bounce-back performance from right-hander Chase Walter tonight. Walter, a 6-foot-7 23-year-old with electric stuff, pitched two shutout innings and struck out four, including three in a row during a 1-2-3 seventh. He had struggled mightily in his last two outings, walking six, hitting a batter and throwing four wild pitches in just 1 2/3 innings. When he and Golden Spikes Award winner Kevin Kopps are rolling, the TinCaps have arguably the best late-inning bullpen duo in the league. It's interesting to think about how different the season might have been had Fort Wayne had that pair on the roster early in the year when it was really having issues in the 'pen.