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The Journal Gazette

  • TinCaps pitcher Michel Baez dumps water over teammates after clinching the Midwest League Eastern Division title with a 3-0 victory over Dayton on Monday night. (Nick Falzerano | For The Journal Gazette)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:00 am

Midwest League Playoffs

TinCaps finals bound

Potts homers, Baez pitches 5 shutout innings to win East clincher

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette


vs. Quad Cities

What: Midwest League Championship Series

Series: Best of 5

Game 1: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Parkview Field

Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Parkview Field

Game 3: TBA Saturday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 4 (if necessary): TBA Sunday in Davenport, Iowa

Game 5 (if necessary): TBA Monday in Davenport, Iowa

DAYTON – For the third time in franchise history, the TinCaps are headed to the Midwest League Championship Series after they culminated their Cinderella story by using dominating pitching and just enough hitting to win the Eastern Division title.

On Monday night, Fort Wayne beat Dayton 3-0 in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the Eastern Division Championship Series. The TinCaps had to win twice at Fifth Third Field after falling behind 1-0 with Saturday's 2-1 loss at Parkview Field.

“That didn't phase us at all,” said Hudson Potts, who hit a home run Monday. “We know we were better than them for where we are now, and we took care of what we needed to, so we're going to the championship.”

Quad Cities, an affiliate of the Houston Astros, is Fort Wayne's opponent. The best-of-five series begins Wednesday night at Parkview Field. Game 2 is also in Fort Wayne before the remainder of the series shifts to Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa.

In early May, the TinCaps played there and dropped two out of three games to the River Bandits, who went 79-59 in the regular season.

“Only three looks at those guys,” Fort Wayne manager Anthony Contreras said. “It was quite a while ago. I don't know what the team looks like now. There are always changes. They have kind of a hitter-friendly ballpark.”

Michel Baez, a season-changing pitcher for the TinCaps since his July debut, went five innings and gave up just two hits Monday with seven strikeouts.

The 6-foot-8 Cuban accepted the responsibility of an important game and withstood the pressure.

“He was lights out,” Potts said. “That's clutch.”

Ranked the seventh-best prospect in the San Diego Padres' farm system, Baez was pitching on four days' rest. Usually he has had five days off between starts, so the Padres informed Contreras to “be cautious with him.” That explained why Baez, who threw 99 pitches in his first postseason outing, departed with his pitch count at 71.

“Obviously, his future is way more important than a Midwest League championship, so we wanted to get at least five out of him and hand the ball (to the bullpen),” Contreras said.

Ronald Bolanos handled two innings before he passed the baton to Dauris Valdez. Working around a one-out walk, Valdez took care of the eighth, and closer Hansel Rodriguez handled the final three outs.

On offense, the TinCaps had given their pitchers enough of a cushion, with Potts crushing a solo homer in the first and Gabriel Arias (RBI groundout) and Buddy Reed (RBI single) adding tallies in the second.

This is a very different team from the one that started 19-39.

“Honestly, it probably hasn't hit me yet,” Contreras said. “Last place in the first half, to come 180, to see the excitement, the celebration, is exceptional. I couldn't be more proud.”

Notes: Michael Beltre, Dayton's starting right fielder the first two games, was placed on the disabled list before Game 3 because of a foot injury. ... The TinCaps previously reached the league finals in 2012 and 2009. They won their lone title in 2009.