SOUTH BEND -- As Ruben Mejia came in from the bullpen, TinCaps pitcher Joe Ross walked away from the mound, his glove off, his eyes on the turf.
The walk back to the dugout always seems longer after outings like this, but particularly in a game like Monday's, with so much at stake and everything out of your hands.
There was nothing more Ross could do.
It was one bad pitch with two outs in the fifth: a slider he hung over the plate to South Bend third baseman Brandon Drury, who bats third for the Silver Hawks and is one of their best hitters. That pitch went over the left field wall for a three-run home run.
That pitch, that one mistake, proved crucial.
He trudged down the steps and sat down on the wooden bench, away from his teammates.
He stared at the concrete beneath him, knowing all too well that this game might be over and the TinCaps season might be, too.
South Bend won 9-5, Fort Wayne's season ended and all Ross could do was watch and think about how differently things could have gone if he just could have gotten out of that inning.
"There's nothing really I can do about it now," Ross said afterward. "I had a pretty good year overall. The team played well. I just wish it could have ended a little bit differently."
Ross didn't cost Fort Wayne the game.
He threw one bad pitch and committed one error. The TinCaps defense had two more miscues behind him, one of which resulted in a run. And the offense, while potent in the latter half of the game, didn't get going until after a five-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth by South Bend.
"Any time that a game kind of looks like it comes down to a moment like that, the guy that's kind of at the center of it's gonna be real bummed out about it," second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum said. "It's really not on Joe, that loss. He's gonna take it tough – we all take it tough whenever you make a mistake that you think cost the team the game."
That feeling is excruciating, and it is magnified by what this loss means.
After the game, a stool with one of its legs snapped off sat just outside the player's area of the clubhouse. Manager Jose Valentin talked to his players and went around with the rest of the coaching staff, shaking hands and slapping backs.
During the goodbyes, Ross walked over from his spot on the far side of the room, grabbed the broken stool and carried it over to a trash bin.
"I think he just made one mistake – just one mistake to a good hitter," Valentin said of Ross, who had a 3.75 ERA in the regular season for Fort Wayne and led the TinCaps to a win in Game 1 of the playoffs against Bowling Green. "You cannot point fingers at him. He went up there and battled all year. That's going to be a great pitcher."
The loss will be one small moment of what could be a lengthy career for the No. 13 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. But in the moment, the frustration still lingered. Ross needed time to cool down, but to his credit, the 20-year-old spoke to reporters.
"It's gonna be a great future for him," Valentin said. "It can happen to anybody. It happens to the best pitchers in the game. He's young. Guys make mistakes.
"But unfortunately, he made one mistake in the wrong situation at the wrong time."
Ross has to wait until January, when the pitchers start rolling into Florida for spring training, to put that mistake behind him.