On Saturday, just two days after the TinCaps put together the biggest comeback in Fort Wayne history, they were on the verge of a second scintillating come-from-behind win.
This time, however, it was not to be. Fort Wayne loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth inning, trailing by just two runs and the heart of the order coming up, but Ethan Skender, Agustin Ruiz and Blake Hunt struck out in order and the TinCaps lost 6-4 to the Cedar Rapids Kernels at Parkview Field in front of an announced crowd of 6,211.
“Giving themselves opportunities to come back and tie a ballgame or potentially win a ballgame is what we ask for,” manager Anthony Contreras said. “Obviously loading the bases with no outs is the way we would want it going into that ninth inning, but unfortunately we couldn't execute and get that big hit. That happens sometimes in baseball.”
The TinCaps (42-54, 9-19 second half) trailed 6-4 from the fifth inning on, after Cedar Rapids second baseman Yeltsin Encarnacion launched his second home run of the season, a 366-foot two-run shot to right field that broke a 4-all tie.
After a quiet seventh and eighth, Fort Wayne woke up in the ninth. Lee Solomon was hit by a pitch to open the inning and Jawuan Harris grounded a single through the middle. Tucupita Marcano tried to bunt the runners over, but he deadened the ball in front of home plate so well that he reached first without a throw.
That brought Skender to the plate and he put together a terrific at-bat, working the count full and laying off some tough pitches. On the 3-2 pitch, reliever Rickey Ramirez unleashed a fastball that seemed to cross below Skender's knees. He took a step toward first, but umpire Jae-Young Kim called it strike three. A shocked Skender stopped and whirled around, giving Kim some choice words before retiring to the dugout.
“He made a mistake there, it was a ball,” said Skender, who drove in a run with a first-inning single. “I mean, it wasn't even close. But everyone makes mistakes, it happens.”
Ruiz followed and went down swinging at a fastball near the letters, leaving Hunt the TinCaps' last opportunity. The catcher came into the game batting .323 in his last 34 games and held up on a couple of tough sliders. On a 2-2 pitch, however, he swung at a fastball up and out of the zone to end the game and run Cedar Rapids (56-42, 17-11) record on the road in the second half to 10-3.
“The crowd starts getting loud and everybody knows how (the emotions) get amplified when those runs mean a lot,” Contreras said. “You gotta be able to calm yourself down and just stay inside your zone and I think Blake kind of swung out of the zone a little bit too much, trying to do a little bit too much. It's good experience for him.”
The TinCaps fell behind 3-1 early, but went in front by a run in the fourth when Michael Curry ripped a two-run single to left. The Kernels responded with three runs, including Encarnacion's homer, in the fifth.
The Fort Wayne bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, with Edwuin Bencomo and Jose Quezada tossing two shutout apiece.
TinCaps vs. Cedar Rapids
Where: Parkview Field
When: 1:05 p.m.
Pitchers: Cullen Dana (TinCaps) vs. Austin Schulfer (Kernels)
TV: Xfinity 81
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM