at West Michigan
What: Game 2
When: 7:05 p.m. today
Where: Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Michigan
Radio: 1380 AM
Series: TinCaps lead 1-0 (best of 3)
Today’s starters: TinCaps: RH Cody Hebner (2-5, 4.64 ERA); Whitecaps: LH Kevin Ziomek (10-6, 2.27 ERA)
Game 3 (if necessary): 7 p.m. Friday at Fifth Third Ballpark, Comstock Park, Michigan
FORT WAYNE — It took a few innings for the TinCaps to get the bats going, but once they did, the playoffs brought a familiar result for this hot team finding its stride.
Josh VanMeter authored the big swing, the bullpen delivered, and the TinCaps’ late-season surge carried over.
They climbed out of an early hole for a 7-5 win Wednesday over West Michigan in Game 1 of the Midwest League’s first round, taking the only game at Parkview Field in the best-of-three matchup.
“It wasn’t exactly must-win,” TinCaps first baseman Jake Bauers said. “It’s always a really good feeling to get up there 1-0 heading into the last two. Just need one more.”
VanMeter’s two-run single off Luke Putkonen (0-1) in the eighth inning was the game-winner, his second tiebreaking hit in two games. The infielder from Ossian hit a three-run homer to clinch the Eastern Division wild card on the final day of the regular season.
“Kind of breathtaking,” VanMeter said. “I’m at a loss for words. It’s a lot of fun.”
The TinCaps erased a three-run deficit with two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth against All-Star starter Austin Kubitza, as Fernando Perez and Nick Schulz delivered RBI singles and West Michigan’s catcher committed a run-scoring error.
Jimmi Brasoban wasn’t sharp on five days’ rest, taking a no-decision after giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
But three TinCaps relievers recorded the final 14 outs without giving up a run.
“It was awesome,” Bauers said. “We got big zeroes when we needed to. We’d put up a couple, and our bullpen was huge getting us back into the dugout quick.”
Cody Hebner takes the mound tonight against Whitecaps All-Star Kevin Ziomek, looking to give the TinCaps the series win at Fifth Third Ballpark.
“It’s the same as going into any start,” Hebner said. “Even though it’s the playoffs, you try not to think about too much, whether it’s Game 2, Game 3, having a bad start.”
The Whitecaps took the lead in the fourth on Javier Betancourt’s RBI.
Kubitza was in an early groove, but the TinCaps went to work against him in the bottom of the fourth.
After Ronnie Richardson was cut down at the plate on a fielder’s choice, Bauers lined a two-out single, setting up Dustin Peterson’s two-run double.
League MVP Wynton Bernard, an ex-TinCap, launched a three-run homer to push the favored Whitecaps ahead 5-2 in the fifth.
Peterson and Ryan Miller opened the eighth with back-to-back singles with the score 5-all. Schulz followed with a sacrifice bunt that Putkonen fielded and failed to get an out when he bobbled the ball.
With Putkonen on a major league rehabilitation assignment, West Michigan manager Andrew Graham gave his reliever an opportunity to get out of the jam himself.
VanMeter made him pay for that decision, lining a 1-2 pitch past the shortstop, the single scoring Peterson and Miller to all but win the game.
Graham thought Miller was guilty of interference by brushing in front of Domingo Leyba and argued with field umpire Dave Attridge.
“I think the umpire missed it, made a mistake, made an excuse and didn’t tell the truth,” Graham said.
Nick Mutz got five outs, Jason Jester (1-0) got six and Ryan Butler got the save.
“Playoff-style ball is always more intense,” TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. “We’ve played a lot of great baseball lately.”