Bowling Green, Kentucky- The Fort Wayne TinCaps endured a tough regular-season series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods, going 5-10 against the Midwest League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. But on Wednesday night in their playoff opener, the TinCaps were the dominant squad, picking up a 6-1 win to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Fort Wayne (1-0) starting pitcher Joe Ross (1-0) controlled the Bowling Green (0-1) lineup for his second straight outing against the club. When he faced the Hot Rods on August 16, he pitched six shutout innings and allowed three hits. Wednesday night, he one-upped himself with six more shutout innings and only one hit. Ross walked two and fanned three, while consecutively retiring the last seven batters he faced.
While Ross was busy recording outs, the TinCaps offense was busy scoring runs. Facing nine-game winner Jeff Ames (0-1), who was 2-0 in three regular-season starts against Fort Wayne, the TinCaps nabbed two runs in the third inning. Catcher Rodney Daal led off with a sizzling double down the left field line, and moved to third on a Mallex Smith bunt single. Back-to-back RBI groundouts by Reynaldo Bruguera and Alberth Martinez carved out an early 2-0 lead.
That score held until the fifth inning when Smith reached on a two-out infield single, hitting a dribbler that died between the mound and home plate. Smith, who led the Midwest League with 64 stolen bases, swiped second, and scored on a Bruguera double that clanked off the base of the chain-link fence in right field, stretching the lead to 3-0.
The TinCaps knocked Ames from the game in the top of the sixth inning after Gabriel Quintana singled and Hunter Renfroe found his ticket to the basepaths with a sacrifice bunt and a throwing error on catcher Justin O’Conner. That errant throw allowed Quintana to move to third. Quintana scored the team’s fifth run on a Luis Domromo single against new pitcher Matthew Spann. Both Renfroe and Domoromo scored later in the inning on a throw home by shortstop Brandon Martin, who missed his intended target at home plate.
Leading 6-0, TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin went to his bullpen, summoning Ruben Mejia. The righthander retired the side in order in both the seventh and eighth innings. In the ninth, closer Roman Madrid, who finished the regular season with a league-leading 22 saves, entered the game. He walked Andrew Toles to start the inning, but then recorded back-to-back outs. With two out and O’Conner batting, Madrid induced a pop-up about ten feet outside the right hand batters box, that was missed in foul ground by Daal. The catcher was charged with an error. After not getting the third out, Madrid walked the next three batters, leading to a run for Bowling Green. Trevor Gott came in to strike out Marty Gantt and end the game.
The series now shifts back to Fort Wayne for an elimination game Thursday night. The scheduled starters are Midwest League ERA leader Zach Eflin for the TinCaps, and Reinaldo Lopez for the Hot Rods.
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