FORT WAYNE – Less than a week ago, after getting swept at Lake County, the TinCaps seemed to lose any momentum they had been building in their pursuit of a sixth straight playoff berth.
Now, as they stand tied with Dayton for the Eastern Division wild card, the TinCaps have rebounded nicely by taking two of three from Bowling Green and the first two against first-place West Michigan.
By rallying for a 6-4 win Thursday night on Ronnie Richardson’s grand slam, the TinCaps (60-75, 30-36 second half) showed they should be taken seriously.
In a surreal scene in the postgame clubhouse, team president Mike Nutter stood in the middle of the room, explaining that Dayton, Bowling Green and Great Lakes had all lost Thursday.
We got word after the game that the other results had gone our way, TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. One day at a time.
Richardson turned a 4-2 deficit into a two-run lead with one monster swing in the seventh inning, driving an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left.
The 5-foot-7 outfielder pumped his right fist in the air as he left the batter’s box, and Parkview Field erupted with one of its loudest cheers.
I don’t even remember it, Richardson said. I kind of blacked out.
When he got back to the dugout, someone informed Richardson that he had homered off a major leaguer. The Tigers’ Luke Putkonen is on an injury rehabilitation assignment.
It’s a little pride thing there, Richardson said. I didn’t know that was him.
Trea Turner drew an 11-pitch walk to load the bases in front of Richardson.
As the on-deck batter, he got a chance to see all three pitches, Turner said. It tires out the pitcher a little bit, which probably played a role.
After today’s finale with West Michigan, the TinCaps go to Bowling Green to face the pesky Hot Rods for the final three games of the regular season. The TinCaps passed Bowling Green and Great Lakes (each 29-36) Thursday. However, if Dayton and the TinCaps are tied at the end of the regular season, the Dragons hold the tie-breaker.
Closer Ryan Butler put an exclamation point on things by striking out the side in electric fashion. He dialed up the velocity to 100 mph to freeze Bennett Pickar for the second out. Against Francisco Contreras, the next batter, he went with his 85 mph slider for the final punch-out.
The ball jumped out of his hand, Collins said.
In 16 games, Butler has pitched 19 2/3 innings, striking out 27 with a 0.92 ERA.
Should the TinCaps capture the wild card, their first-round opponent would be these same Whitecaps (80-56, 39-27).
Note: Fernando Perez homered in the first to give Fort Wayne a 1-0 lead. His RBI increased his season total to 92, a franchise record. Current major leaguer Will Venable drove in 91 runs in 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org