COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. – For just the second time in 10 seasons, there will be no playoff baseball for the TinCaps in 2018.
It took 10 innings, but a sacrifice fly from Anthony Pereira brought home Brady Policelli from third base with the winning run, and the West Michigan Whitecaps punched their ticket to the Midwest League playoffs with a 3-2 victory Monday in front of an announced crowd of 4,624 at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The TinCaps (32-37 second half) needed to win just one of their final two games against the Whitecaps (33-36) to reach the playoffs but lost both games by one run, ending their season and denying them a postseason berth for the second time in three years. Fort Wayne made the playoffs in seven straight seasons after moving into Parkview Field in 2009.
“Guys are down,” third baseman Owen Miller said. “Obviously tough game like that, lose on a walk-off, it definitely sucks just to know that we're so close.”
The game was tight throughout and entered extra innings tied 1-1. Jack Suwinski drove in Kelvin Melean with a ground ball to short in the top of the 10th to give the TinCaps team a 2-1 lead and leave Fort Wayne three outs from clinching a playoff spot.
West Michigan, though, wouldn't be denied and had a little luck on its side. The Whitecaps loaded the bases with nobody out against TinCaps reliever Evan Miller. Third baseman Colby Bortles hit next and lashed a line drive that pingponged off Miller's glove, then off second baseman Kelvin Melean's glove and eventually reached center field for a game-tying single.
That brought up Pereira, who hit a sinking line drive to right that Agustin Ruiz had to dive to catch. If he'd been able to stay on his feet, he might have had a chance to throw out Policelli, but the Whitecaps' right fielder instead slid home safely, touching off a celebration between first and second base, while the TinCaps walked slowly off the field toward their third-base dugout.
“I told (the team) before, we're fortunate to get to have the playoffs before the playoffs,” manager Anthony Contreras said about the series against West Michigan. “Three games that all meant something, get to feel the pressure, get to feel the experience of all that stuff, and I thought they competed great.”
Fort Wayne's loss overshadowed a tremendous performance from starter Tom Cosgrove, who pitched arguably his best game of the season in his most important start. The 22-year-old left-hander was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to a Whitecaps error and made it stand up for six innings.
The Whitecaps scratched out the tying run off Cosgrove in the seventh on a single, sacrifice bunt, wild pitch and an RBI ground ball, but he finished the inning, completing just his second seven-inning appearance of the season. Cosgrove, the only pitcher who was on the Fort Wayne roster from Opening Day to the end of the season, struck out seven and walked one but got a no-decision.
“I try to treat all the games the same,” Cosgrove said. “Obviously, it was a must-win situation, but I don't think I thought too much about that, just went out and tried to do the same thing I've done in the past. ... I was a little pissed when they scored in the seventh, but other than that, I was pretty even-keeled the whole game.”
West Michigan's victory sent the Whitecaps to the playoffs for the fifth straight year, while the TinCaps will have to wait seventh months before they play a regular-season game again.