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vs. West Michigan
When: 7:05 p.m. today
TV: Xfinity Channel 81
Radio: 1380 AM
Tickets: $12.50, $10, $9, $8, $5 (lawn)
Information: or 482-6400
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
TinCaps starter James Needy struck out five in a complete-game effort Wednesday.
West Michigan 1, TinCaps 0

In need of some runs

Playoff race gets tight as offense lets down pitching

– Fort Wayne starting pitcher James Needy gave a playoff-worthy effort, But Fort Wayne’s hitting just couldn’t match it.

Needy threw a complete-game four-hitter Wednesday in a 1-0 loss to West Michigan in the first of a crucial three-game series at Parkview Field. Four West Michigan pitchers held the TinCaps to three hits in front of 5,428 fans.

“He pitched his (butt) off today,” Fort Wayne catcher Austin Hedges said. “It’s just disappointing that we couldn’t give him any run support.”

With five games remaining in the regular season, Fort Wayne’s (35-30, 66-69 overall) lead over West Michigan (34-31, 70-65) for the Eastern Division’s wild card is down to one game.

Lake County is in the top spot among teams eligible for a playoff spot. The Captains have a two-game lead over Fort Wayne after defeating Bowling Green 7-2.

Lansing and Bowling Green qualified for the playoffs in the first half.

“We have five left,” Hedges said. “We have to win ballgames.”

Needy did all he could, striking out five on the way to becoming the first Fort Wayne starter to have a nine-inning complete game since Stephen Faris on July 17, 2007.

“I was just pounding the strike zone early. Those guys are aggressive,” Needy said.

“From the sixth (inning) on, I kept looking at (pitching coach) Willie (Blair), and was like, ‘Don’t you dare’ (take me out).”

The only run came in the second inning. Lance Durham and Pat Leyland had consecutive singles. With two outs, Gabriel Purroy hit a grounder to shortstop Jace Peterson, who threw wildly to first. Durham scored on the error.

“It can happen to anybody,” Fort Wayne manager Jose Valentin said. “It happened to me a lot of times in my career.”

Fort Wayne didn’t collect its first hit until the fifth, when Duanel Jones singled off Wilsen Palacios.

“They were just pitching backwards, throwing a lot of off-speed,” Hedges said.

The TinCaps placed a runner on second with two outs in the ninth, but pinch-hitter Mike Gallic grounded out to second base.

And with that, the wild-card race tightened.

“We’ll have our ace (Matt Wisler) going,” Valentin said, looking ahead to the second game of the series. “We have to try to make it easy for him, score some runs early so he can go out there and give us a good effort and give us a chance to win.”

Notes: Hedges and former TinCaps pitcher Adys Portillo were named to the 2012 Midwest League Postseason All-Star team on Wednesday. … Fort Wayne closer Matt Stites will pitch in the Arizona Fall League, the San Diego Padres announced Wednesday.