The TinCaps' playoff hopes took a hit Thursday as they fell to the Lake County Captains 12-4 in front of a Parkview Field crowd of 8,321.
The loss is particularly damaging as West Michigan, the team chasing them for the final playoff spot, defeated Dayton on Thursday and is now tied with the TinCaps for the final playoff spot. Fort Wayne does own the head-to-head tiebreaker with West Michigan, but with four games remaining, it's crunch time.
Lake County (56-79, 27-38 second half) broke open a tie game with a five-run fourth inning.
“Our bullpen needs to do a better job of coming in there and shutting innings down and keeping it close,” TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said. “Even if we're down, keep it in striking distance.”
Lake County's Elvis Perez had an RBI double to bring in Mitch Reeves for the 2-1 lead. After Joey Cantillo's TinCaps pitching debut was done, reliever Fred Schlichtholz entered with the bases loaded. Lake County's Will Benson promptly hit a grand slam to right to push the lead to 6-1.
“Once you start getting hit after hit like that, things start to happen and have a snowball effect,” Contreras said. “It's contagious just like hitting.”
The TinCaps (63-71, 31-34) did respond in the bottom of the fourth. With the bases loaded, Lake County pitcher Francisco Perez walked Jalen Washington to bring home Esteury Ruiz. Next up, Aldemar Burgos hit a sacrifice fly to bring in Nick Feight. Reliever Jonathan Teaney came in, but Owen Miller also walked to score Michael Cantu. Fort Wayne scored three runs on two hits in the inning to cut the lead to 6-4.
Three RBI singles in the top of the sixth pushed the lead to 9-4 for the Captains. TinCaps reliever Danny Sexton gave up three hits and a run in the seventh, and the Captains scored two more runs in the ninth to make it 12-4.
The Captains got things started in the top of the second when Cantillo walked Jesse Berardi. Two stolen bases and a Perez sacrifice fly scored Berardi.
TinCaps leadoff hitters got on base in the first four at-bats, but it wasn't until the bottom of the third that they could make anything out of it. Aldemar Burgos singled to left, and advanced to third on a wild pitch and stolen base. A Jack Suwinski single brought home Burgos to tie the game.
“We're going to have games like this sometimes; just got to be able to wash it out as quickly as we can and come back tomorrow ready to go,” Contreras said.
Notes: The TinCaps return to Parkview Field today for the final of the three-game series with the Captains and the final regular-season home game. Right-hander Mason Thompson is expected to start. Thompson (6-7) has given up 57 runs on 89 hits in 891/2 innings.
TinCaps vs. Lake County
Where: Parkview Field
When: 7:05 p.m. today
Pitchers: Mason Thompson (TinCaps) vs. Jean Carlos Mejia (Captains)
TV: Xfinity 81