TinCaps vs. Bowling Green
First round, best of three
Game 1: TinCaps 6,
Bowling Green 1
Thursday: TinCaps 9,
Bowling Green 5
Series: Fort Wayne wins 2-0
FORT WAYNE — For one of the few times since early June, the TinCaps did almost everything right in consecutive games.
And for Fort Wayne, there was no better time to do it.
The TinCaps beat Bowling Green 9-5 on Thursday to sweep a best-of-three playoff series against the Hot Rods and move on to the Eastern Division finals. Fort Wayne will play South Bend in Game 1 at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Parkview Field.
All this after finishing the second half 12 games below .500 and watching the Hot Rods surge to the overall Midwest League Eastern Division lead.
“Not surprised at all,” TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said. “I got no doubt in my team.”
Fort Wayne starter Zach Eflin, the Midwest League leader in ERA among starters, put on another strong performance in front of a crowd of 4,377 at Parkview Field. The 19-year-old went six innings and gave up five hits, two earned runs and one walk while striking out five.
“We’re finally starting to play as a family,” Eflin said. “We really started to pick it up and cherish it.”
Bowling Green starter Reinaldo Lopez lasted half that long and gave up twice as much. Lopez went three innings for the Hot Rods and gave up seven hits, four earned runs and struck out two. His reliever, Andrew Hanse, also struggled in the must-win game for Bowling Green.
Hanse gave up five hits and five runs, although just two were earned. He fell victim to a four-run fifth inning that featured a two-run home run from catcher Rodney Daal, whose ninth home run of the season put the TinCaps up 9-1 with four innings left.
“It’s never too late,” Valentin said. “They realize that now, everything counts. You can blink, and there’s pretty much no tomorrow.”
Bowling Green knew that too, and it battled back.
The Hot Rods got two runs off Eflin in the top of the sixth and another off reliever Bryan Rodriguez, who went just two-thirds of an inning and gave up a hit and two walks while letting a run score.
Chris Nunn came on to replace Rodriguez and ended the bases-loaded jam with a groundout to shortstop Tyler Stubblefield.
“Those guys, they look like a completely different team from the whole regular season,” Valentin said. “They were focused. Guys, you could see the composure, the way the pitchers go up there, facing them pitch-by-pitch.”
Nunn gave up a run in the top of the eighth, but while the Fort Wayne bullpen struggled, it did enough to close out the series. Trevor Gott came on for the final three outs and retired the side.
“We pitched, we played good defense, we hit – we pretty much do everything the way it’s supposed to be,” Valentin said. “I guess they’re realizing this is the time. … We cannot let this opportunity go to waste.”
Note: The TinCaps’ grounds crew, led by head groundskeeper Keith Winter and assistant groundskeeper Andrew Burnette, earned the Midwest League’s Grounds Crew of the Year award and is now up for Single-A Field of the Year.