One night after the TinCaps exploded for 15 hits, one shy of a season-high, they could only manage four. A lights-out performance from the Fort Wayne bullpen meant the TinCaps won again anyway.
Fort Wayne relievers pitched 61/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter Anderson Espinoza and Agustin Ruiz provided just enough offense with a two-run homer in the first, lifting the TinCaps to a 3-1 victory Thursday at Parkview Field in front of an announced crowd of 5,752.
The victory, their fourth in the last five games, pushed the TinCaps (32-37) out of the cellar and into fifth place in the High-A Central East Division, six games out of the final league playoff spot.
“That's huge, especially, down the stretch of the season, to know that we can win in many ways,” manager Anthony Contreras said. “It's going to be our offense one night, our pitching and defense the next and that's encouraging for not just the staff, but the players as well, knowing you have your teammates next to you to pick you up if you're not having your day. The last two games have showed that.”
The TinCaps jumped in front in the first inning, when Ruiz lifted his long ball to straightaway right field, putting Fort Wayne in front 2-0 after Chris Givin had walked to lead off the inning. It was Ruiz's second home run in three games and 12th of the season, seventh in the league.
Fort Wayne starter Anderson Espinoza struck out a season-high six hitters, touching 97 mph with his fastball, but gave up a run on three hits before being pulled with two outs in the third inning.
Right-hander Edwuin Bencomo got a ground ball to strand two runners to end the third and that kicked off a stellar night for the relievers, who struck out nine and gave up only four hits to make the slim lead stand up.
“The energy is just outstanding (in the clubhouse),” said reliever Austin Smith, who pitched a scoreless seventh to extend his consecutive shutout innings streak to 101/3 over his last eight appearances. “Everyone's happy, everyone's in a good mood, we're all cheering for other. The vibes are good.”
The TinCaps picked up an insurance run in the eighth when Grant Little doubled down the right-field line and came in to score on a Jonny Homza infield single, which was aided by a bad hop off the lip of the outfield grass.
There was some drama in the ninth as right-hander Wen-Hua Sung put the first two runners on and loaded the bases with two out, but he struck out James Free with a high fastball to finish off the victory and his second save, bringing Fort Wayne's bench pouring out of the dugout for enthusiastic handshakes.
“It's definitely going to build our confidence,” Smith said of winning two straight against the Dragons, who came into the series leading the division. “We're just having fun and doing our thing.”
When: 7:05 p.m. today
Where: Parkview Field
Pitchers: RHP Moises Lugo (TinCaps) vs. RHP Noah Davis (Dragons)
TV: Xfinity 81
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM