BURLINGTON, Iowa – Brad Brach flung his glove high in the air.
The closer raised his arms and then hugged charging catcher Robert Lara.
The scene plays out every year at the end of the baseball season. For the first time, the celebration involved Fort Wayne.
The TinCaps captured the first Midwest League title in franchise history by defeating Burlington 4-3 in the Midwest League Championship Series.
Brach struck out pinch-hitter Hilton Richardson to complete a 3-0 series sweep and set off the celebration in front of 891 fans at Community Field.
Robert, we’ve been together for two years now. To strike (Richardson) out and see (Lara) coming at me and then everybody else charging the field. That’s something I’ll never forget, Brach said.
It’s a year that the city won’t forget, either.
A new downtown ballpark. A new team name. And a new final result.
Fort Wayne had never won a game in the second round of the playoffs in its previous 16 seasons. This year’s squad set 16 franchise records on the way to matching the Midwest League record with 101 victories (including playoffs).
After a dogpile on the mound, the players raised the championship trophy along the first-base line.
I don’t know if there is a perfect season, but it sure ended like one, TinCaps manager Doug Dascenzo said.
You never know what’s going to happen when you get out of spring training. You just don’t know how they are going to react. The first full season, it’s a very difficult season. And to be able to raise a championship trophy says a lot about that group of guys.
Fort Wayne’s bullpen, so dominant during the regular season, came through again. Relievers Alexis Lara, Zach Herr, Nick Schumacher and Brach allowed one hit in the final 3 1/3 innings. The TinCaps’ relievers limited the Bees to two hits in 8 1/3 innings pitched.
It’s been there all year, Brach said. We knew we wanted to get it over (Thursday). Our bullpen, we looked at each other and said let’s get it done.’ One guy after another got up there and threw up zeroes.
Jaff Decker was the offensive star, going 3 for 4. His two-run home run to right field off Manauris Baez in the fifth inning put the TinCaps ahead 4-0.
We’ve been working with hitting coach (Tom) Tornincasa all year, getting that pitch and not missing it, Decker said. He happened to throw it where I thought I could do something, and I just happened to hit a home run.
Starting pitcher Mike Watt gave up three runs, one earned, in 5 1/3 innings. Fort Wayne led 4-3 in the sixth, but Burlington had two on with two outs. Lara then struck out Yeldrys Molina.
Brach struck out two of three batters in the ninth. His strategy against Richardson was simple.
Three fastballs, right by him, Brach said. I wanted to stick with my best pitch.
The TinCaps started the season with a franchise-record 10 wins. They ended by winning their final five. The team will return to Fort Wayne for a championship celebration at 6:30 p.m. today at Parkview Field.
To be able to share this with (team president) Mike Nutter. To be able to share it with the fans and the city of Fort Wayne is a tremendous feeling, Dascenzo said. I’m glad they were able to enjoy it as much as we did.