FORT WAYNE – Once the final out was recorded, John Nester got the silent treatment, one of baseball’s quirky ways of celebrating a big achievement.
I don’t think anybody likes me too much, the TinCaps’ catcher cracked. They all just ignored me.
Nester hit a game-winning RBI single off West Michigan reliever Zac Reininger with two outs in the eighth inning to hand the TinCaps a 2-1 victory Wednesday night in front of 3,884 at Parkview Field.
Nester’s heroics significantly boosted the TinCaps’ playoff hopes.
I knew it was a big situation, he said. One of the bigger ones, especially with everything going on here.
The TinCaps (59-75, 29-36 second half) might have been counted out a few days ago, but nights like Wednesday – with the right results elsewhere in the Midwest League – keep them right there.
Dayton lost to Lansing, leaving the TinCaps a game out of the Eastern Division’s wild-card spot.
Great Lakes and Bowling Green are one ahead of Fort Wayne in the loss column.
Our mentality right now is that we need to win out, said TinCaps first baseman Jake Bauers, who had an RBI single in the fourth.
Even after Nester came through, there was teeth-gnashing, nail-biting drama.
Closer Ryan Butler faced Ross Kivett with the tying run on third and two down in the ninth.
It’s a lot of pressure, Butler said. Your team’s betting on you. I like it. It’s a lot of adrenaline and feels good when you get the out.
Kivett, who had singled and walked, sliced a ball down the left field line. Butler wasn’t worried because of the speed of Henry Charles, who made the catch to seal the deal.
The first-place Whitecaps (80-55, 39-26) were held to five hits and got no scoring aside from an RBI double by league MVP Wynton Bernard in the fifth.
TinCaps starter Ronald Herrera (five innings, one run on three hits) went toe to toe with All-Star Austin Kubitza (six innings, one run on six hits). Bauers had a sense early that runs would be at a premium, and they were.
On a night like that, all you can do is play defense and try to scratch a couple across, he said.
Mission accomplished, as Nester got just enough of a two-strike slider to push it over the head of West Michigan’s middle infielders.
Franmil Reyes, who had walked with one out and moved to second on a passed ball, came chugging home.
I was trying to battle and get a pitch I could handle, Nester said. I found a hole in the outfield.
As a result, he made a winner of Eric Yardley (2-4) and perhaps gave the TinCaps a needed second wind.
No one’s going to help us, Bauers said. We feel it’s up to us. As long as we do our part, maybe something will take care of itself.