SOUTH BEND – For the second straight day, the TinCaps took a lead into the late innings. This time, the bullpen made it stand up.
One day after Fort Wayne relievers gave up seven runs in three innings, left-hander Cody Tyler and right-hander Mason Fox combined to pitch four shutout innings and preserve a 3-1 victory Monday over South Bend at Four Winds Field in front of an announced crowd of 3,655. The teams waited through a 70-minute rain delay before the game began.
It was complete team win for the TinCaps, who pitched well, got big hits, ran the bases aggressively and turned in a handful of spectacular plays on defense to preserve the lead in the late innings.
"Obviously, South Bend's a very good team," third baseman Ethan Skender said. "We needed to take one, they got the first two. It was good to go out and play really well tonight, all the way around, our defense, (pitching) and hitting. It was really good to get that win and hopefully keep it rolling."
The TinCaps (54-64, 21-29 second half) avoided a sweep and sit six games back of the Cubs (64-54, 27-23) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Division with 20 games remaining.
Fort Wayne trailed by a run going into the fifth inning as South Bend starter Carlos Vega gave up just one hit in four shutout innings in his first pro start.
In the fifth, the TinCaps ambushed reliever Fauris Guerrero, plating two runs to take the lead for good. Catcher Juan Fernandez led off and ripped a blistering line drive that cleared the high fence in left field, ending up in the second row of seats for a game-tying solo home run. It was Fernandez’s second long ball of the season.
"He's been swinging the bat well all year," Skender said. "The kid just has a great approach, he does an amazing job behind the plate. He just puts together great at-bats every time he's up there."
Skender followed Fernandez, hitting a shot that looked to be headed to the same spot. He thought for a moment the ball would be foul before taking off for first and watching the line drive bang off the wall. Skender raced into second with a double and came around to score the go-ahead run when Kelvin Alarcon hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
Skender had two doubles and is hitting .307 in Fort Wayne. It was the first time in 37 games as a pro that he's had two extra-base hits in a game and it came as he was playing in front of his parents and girlfriend, who came in from Peoria, Illinois, to watch him play this weekend.
TinCaps starter Edwuin Bencomo, making his first start of the year, went a season-high five innings and gave up just one run while striking out three and walking one. He earned his first win since Aug. 17, 2018.
"He was filling up the zone right away and that's what you have to do," manager Anthony Contreras said of Bencomo. "He was getting guys to put the ball in play, changeup was working like it usually does. He snuck in a couple sliders, but his fastball-changeup mix is pretty dominant at this level.
"He was working quick. His pitch count was really low. ... That's huge for us, just moving the game along. He was getting the ball and keeping the (defense) in tune with the game."
Fort Wayne added an insurance run in the eighth when Michael Curry singled to left, plating Tyler Benson to complete the scoring. Benson was on third because he had advanced two bases on a wild pitch during the previous at-bat.
Tyler pitched three scoreless innings, striking out four, and Fox worked a perfect ninth, whiffing one, to earn his first save with Fort Wayne.
The game ended on a soft line drive up the middle off the bat of Rafelin Lorenzo. TinCaps second baseman Lee Solomon took two steps and then dove with full extension, snaring the ball before it could sneak into center field.
"I went up to (Solomon) and I was like, 'That's a Top 10 play right there,'" Skender said. "I literally said that to him, that was an unbelievable catch. Wow, that's all I can say about that."