The TinCaps got a break. Then they ended their losing streak.
Fort Wayne pushed across the go-ahead run in the seventh inning when Lake County second baseman Raynel Delgado threw the ball away on what should have been an inning-ending double play. The hosts went on to win 5-4 at Parkview Field, ending a season-long seven-game losing streak and giving them a chance to let out a deep breath after a week of frustration and near-misses.
It wasn't a perfect game: the TinCaps let the lead slip away twice and committed a pair of errors that put runners in scoring position, but as manager Anthony Contreras pointed out, "A win is a win."
"As a whole we put together some really good at-bats," outfielder Grant Little said. "When you put balls in play, that gives the defense opportunities to make errors and we benefitted from a big error they made there in the (seventh). We just had a bunch of quality at-bats, making things happen and that's how we got the victory tonight."
The TinCaps were in the game long enough to take the lead in the seventh in large part thanks to starting pitcher Ethan Elliott, the team's ace, who turned in his best start in several weeks. The left-hander worked six innings, gave up just two runs on five hits and struck out four, leaving him third in High-A Central in Ks (71) and fourth in ERA (2.95). His slider was very good all night and Contreras stressed the importance of Elliott keeping Lake County leadoff hitter Will Brennan off the bases. Brennan went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Elliott after going 6 for 9 with a home run in the first two games of the series.
Every team wants to have a stopper in the rotation, a pitcher it can turn to during a losing streak and feel confident it will get a good start. Elliott played that role tonight.
"What I love about playing behind Ethan is that you can put your head down for two seconds and he's already going back to the plate with another pitch," Little said of the fast-working southpaw. "It's fun to play behind somebody who has that pace and keeps the defenders engaged. It's just really fun to watch. I feel like everyone gets that extra boost whenever Ethan's going, everyone has that little extra bit of confidence that all we have to get is a couple because he's always keeping us in games. Tonight was an example of that."
Ornelas played nearly as big a role in the victory. The right-fielder homered in his first bat, launching a ball to right-center that left his bat at 103 mph and landed 398 feet away for his first home run of the season to go along with a league-leading 19 doubles. The disparity between homers and two-baggers is a pretty good illustration of where Ornelas's swing is right now. As Contreras said, it's a swing built more for line drives than for getting lift and putting the ball over the wall. Ornelas is plenty strong enough to drive the ball out on a regular basis and the Padres are likely hoping he increases his launch angle somewhat as he develops in the upper levels of the minors. Ornelas finished 3 for 3 with a walk, his first three-hit game since June 12.
Meanwhile, Little made his return to the lineup, starting for the first time since June 26 after battling through some bruised ribs suffered when he got hit by a pitch in South Bend. The outfielder made an error in the third inning, but it turned into a good night for him when he doubled in each of his next two at-bats. Little had only three extra-base hits all season in 100 plate appearances coming into this game, so two doubles in one contest is a notable feat and evidence that, as he said after the game, he's feeling fully healthy.
"I was a little nervous, but I was more excited to be back in there," Little said of his return. "When I stepped in the box, it was business."
The TinCaps got solid relief appearances from Jose Geraldo, who earned his fourth save, and Austin Smith, who picked up a hold, although Sam Keating did cough up a two-run lead in the seventh inning, setting up the winning rally in the bottom half. It was fitting that, after losing so many close games during its seven-game slide, Fort Wayne's streak-breaking victory was a nail-biter. After finally picking up a win, the TinCaps have a chance to build on it and salvage something positive from what has been a very difficult homestand.