Triumphant in Twelve

It was just about a week ago that I wrote about whether I preferred pitcher’s duels or high-scoring affairs, and I sided in the former camp, far preferring a game where every pitch can have game-changing implications. I’d said my favorite game was a late-August start last year by James Needy in which he threw a nine-inning complete game and lost, 1-0. Last night’s TinCaps game has quickly become my new favorite.

Riding a five-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game, the TinCaps had rattled off six runs per game and nearly 10 hits per game in their previous 12 outings. However, Saturday they picked up just three hits through the first seven innings, as Fort Wayne’s Joe Ross and Dayton’s Robert Stephenson locked horns in the duel of the year. Both righties went seven innings, neither allowing a run. Ross fanned five and gave up one hit, Stephenson struck out eight, walked one and gave up three hits. It was disappointing to see both pitchers leave the game, but pitch counts demanded that they leave. Ross threw 86 pitches and Stephenson threw only 65, which is remarkable.

Defense was critical in this game. Dayton’s All-Star left-fielder Jesse Winker threw out Mallex Smith at home plate, ending the sixth inning. In the 11th inning, the Dragons loaded the bases with nobody out on just three pitches against Chris Nunn, who somehow Houdini’d his way out of it with a strikeout and a double-play grounder off the bat of Winker, the team’s best offensive player.

Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, after four 1-2-3 innings from Dragons lefty Joel Bender, there was life. Mallex Smith bunted his way on and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Alberth Martinez. Maxx Tissenbaum then singled up the middle, with Smith racing home and just beating the throw from center fielder Beau Amaral. Tissenbaum enjoyed the glory (and the Gatorade) in our post-game interview:

It was a special night for Maxx, whose parents and sister drove 6 1/2 hours from his native Toronto to watch him play last night. I’m sure the drive was well worth it.

If only Archie hadn't already taken the name Jughead.

If only Archie hadn’t already taken the name Jughead.

It’d be impossible to think today’s pitching matchup can live up to what we saw yesterday, but we do know that it has potential. As late first-round picks, Ross (25th in 2011) and Stephenson (27th in 2011) put on a great show. The two are good friends dating back to their high school days in Northern California. Although they didn’t play against one another, they were on the same summer travel team.

“It’s hard [to keep in touch] with how busy you are during the season, but we usually hang out during batting practice in the outfield,” Ross told MLB.com after the game Saturday. “[We didn't] before the game, it’s kind of a mental time to get ready, but we’ll probably grab dinner tomorrow night.”

Today it’s San Diego’s Max Fried (7th in 2012) against Cincinnati’s Nick Travieso (14th in 2012). Travieso, who has just one Midwest League start under his belt after joining the team on May 31st, would have been a college teammate of Walker Weickel at Miami, had they both not signed professional contracts. Fried has been fortunate to make eight of his 10 starts, including today’s, at Parkview Field, where the TinCaps are a league-best 21-10. Fort Wayne has also now won 12 of its last 13 games, all after a five-game losing streak. If the TinCaps win today, they’ll set a new season-high for consecutive wins with seven.

Today’s first pitch is a rare 1:05 start at Parkview Field (did someone say post-game mid-afternoon nap?!?), and we hope to see you at the park. If not, you can catch the game on XFINITY 81, The Fan 1380 and TheFanFortWayne.com. TinCaps Manager Jose Valentin will be the pre-game guest on radio, and you can hear his weekly comments at around 12:50.

PLAYOFFS IN PERSPECTIVE

Every year since moving to downtown Parkview Field, the TinCaps have been a playoff contender. Here’s how they’ve qualified:

2009: First-half champion

2010: Second-half wild card

2011: Second-half wild card

2012: Second-half wild card

As of today, Fort Wayne’s magic number is 4 to earn a first-half wild card spot. They lead Bowling Green by 5 1/2 games and have nine left to play before the All-Star break. Theoretically, it is possible to catch South Bend, as the TinCaps only trail the Silver Hawks by five games, but South Bend has won 26 of its last 38 games, and has shown no signs of slowing down. All that needs to happen now is any combination of four Fort Wayne wins or Bowling Green losses, and the TinCaps are in.

PODCAST

To hear Mike Maahs’ Saturday pre-game chat with Walker Weickel, where he talks about his happiness getting his first win, the last year of his life since being drafted and his success inducing ground balls, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcast:

MUSICAL GUEST

John Mayer Trio…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

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