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The Journal Gazette

Friday, July 06, 2018 12:20 am

TinCaps beat Loons in extra innings, take sole possession of 1st

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The TinCaps are all alone in first place in the Eastern Division.

After Lansing lost earlier Thursday night, all Fort Wayne had to do was beat cellar-dweller Great Lakes to have the top spot all to themselves. It took an extra inning and a comeback from three runs behind, but the TinCaps eventually secured that victory 6-5, completing a four-game sweep of the Loons and moving to 11-2 in their last 13 games.

The game-winning four-run uprising in the 10th inning was a complete "team effort" as outfielder Robbie Podorsky put it. There was no "big hit" in the inning, only two walks, three singles and a fielder's choice. The TinCaps did not make any outs on their way scoring four times and winning on Justin Lopez's walk. Fort Wayne hitters, one after the other, refused to get too aggressive, refused to try to do too much, and simply focused on getting on base. The approach worked perfectly.

"In that situation, you're down three runs, what are the odds of going and getting three runs in an inning?" asked Podorsky, who led off the inning with a walk. "So the pressure was off. We were just going up there and trying to put together some quality at-bats, piece by piece and everybody did their job."

For a team that had so little experience to start the season, especially on the offensive side, it was a mark of how much its collective approach has matured that each hitter stayed within himself and wasn't overwhelmed by the moment.

"We talk about being stubborn in the zone," manager Anthony Contreras said. "Everybody did their part. ... (Justin) Lopez was very patient; I think he swung out of the zone one time, but in that situation it's tough for a young kid because you got a lot of noise, you got a lot of pressure, the game's on the line, but he did a great job of staying patient and got us the win."

The late-game heroics partially obscured the performance of TinCaps starter Luis Patino, but they shouldn't. I wrote before the game Patino had big shoes to fill with Fort Wayne pitching coming off back-to-back shutouts against the Loons. He filled them and then some, pitching 5 2/3 hitless innings and equaling a season-high with eight strikeouts.

He was especially good near the end of his start, striking out four of the final five hitters he faced after he began attacking with his best fastball. Contreras called Patino's start "dominant" but said he thought the 18-year-old right-hander could have pitched deeper into the game.

"He probably could have gone longer right there if he attacks a little bit more, but he'll learn that as he goes," the manager said. "Obviously we're not gonna shy away from the outing he had, but in this game we want him to see the things he did that can change to have a better outing next time."

Patino didn't get the win, but he kept the TinCaps in the game as their offense sputtered a bit in the middle innings and he exited with a 2-0 lead. The bats woke up just in time in the extra inning and Fort Wayne is now 13-4 against the Loons this season. The TinCaps face a significant step up in competition when the Bowling Green Hot Rods come to town for a four-game series beginning Friday.