SOUTH BEND – Fort Wayne needed to win two in a row against South Bend to move on to the Midwest League Championship Series.
The TinCaps took the first step, and staved off elimination, with a 5-2 victory Sunday over the Silver Hawks at Four Winds Field.
Manager Jose Valentin’s TinCaps demonstrated clutch hitting, clinical pitching and confidence in the field.
It was a big win, Valentin said. I don’t think we’ve won a game in this park all year, and to come back and do it at this time of the year, after being down 0-1 in a two out of three series, it’s something that is not easy.
Fort Wayne (73-67, 3-1 playoffs) and South Bend (81-58, 3-1 playoffs) had played eight games decided by one run or less before Sunday and had 14 games with a margin of three or fewer runs.
This contest was also hotly contested.
South Bend starter Rob Coe and TinCaps starter Colin Rea each pitched seven innings. The lone blemishes for the pitchers were home runs by Fort Wayne right fielder Hunter Renfroe and Silver Hawks third baseman Brandon Drury in the sixth inning.
Rea struck out six, intentionally walked one and gave up just three hits, including the solo shot by Drury.
My fastball command was pretty good today, and I had a lot of help on defense, said Rea, who is 3-0 as a starter. We said, If we’re in the playoffs, we might as well win it.’ We’ve just got to come out aggressive.
The TinCaps had five hits in seven innings against Coe, but had only the homer by the San Diego Padres’ 2013 first-round draft pick to show for it.
Enrique Garcia came on in place of Coe in the eighth inning, and the lefty struggled immediately.
Center fielder Alberth Martinez started the inning with a base hit, and third baseman Gabriel Quintana followed that up with a two-run home run deep over the wall in left-center.
It was the 10th homer of the season for Quintana, who came into the game batting .305.
Renfroe got back into the action next with a triple to center, and left fielder Luis Domoromo scored him on a base hit. With four straight hits and three runs to his name, Garcia was yanked for Tyler Green.
Everybody did a great job of swinging the bat today, up and down the lineup, Renfroe said. We got one more tomorrow to finish it out.
Fort Wayne got one more run and batted around in the eighth, which proved to be the decisive inning.
Chris Nunn relieved Rea in the eighth, while Roman Madrid came on in the ninth. Madrid gave up an unearned run in the inning but sealed the game for Fort Wayne.
Today, it’s do-or-die. The winner takes the Eastern Division crown.
We’ve been playing great baseball, right on time, right when we have to, said Valentin, whose team lost to Wisconsin last year in the Championship Series. We got the biggest game of the year. We need to come with the same intensity and score some runs early.