FORT WAYNE – The TinCaps fell behind by 10 runs in the middle of the game Friday and miraculously brought the tying run to the on-deck circle with two down in the ninth inning.
The fans who helped set a franchise record for attendance in a season roared as the line kept moving.
When Josh VanMeter hit a comebacker to the mound, first-place West Michigan finally finalized a 12-9 win to avoid getting swept at Parkview Field.
The TinCaps (60-76, 30-37 second half) fell into a three-way tie for second place in the five-team Eastern Division wild-card race.
With a 2-1 walk-off win Friday over Lake County, Great Lakes (30-36 second half) took the pole position for the final playoff spot entering the final three days of the season.
The TinCaps begin a series against Bowling Green (29-37 second half) today.
West Michigan (81-56, 40-27) pounced on Cody Hebner, who entered with a 3.24 ERA but got only three outs. The right-hander gave up four RBI singles in the first and was charged with seven runs on eight hits.
He was up in the zone, TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. In the end, he fell behind hitters and didn’t make enough good pitches.
Hebner (2-5) headed straight down the clubhouse tunnel after getting pulled three batters into the second.
Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham said his lineup, which had 10 of its 14 hits in the first two innings, took a very aggressive approach against Hebner.
We got ourselves into hitter’s counts, and hitting’s contagious, Graham said.
The TinCaps never found a groove until the bottom of the ninth, which began with them down 12-3.
Fort Wayne hadn’t yet scored when the second out was recorded. Five hits later, the last a two-run homer by Ryan Miller, and Graham was forced into a pitching change.
Henry Charles then singled against Nate Fury before Fury retired VanMeter to snuff the furious rally.
West Michigan starter Chad Green (6-4) gave up two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts in five innings.
The TinCaps’ final home game of the regular season was their 25th sellout. An announced crowd of 7,805 pushed the season total to a record 406,715.
The season will now resolve itself on the road.
That great finish showed character, Collins said. We’ll try to take our aggressive approach (to Bowling Green). We have to prepare the way we have all year, no more, no less.
Notes: Sgt. Nick Conrad of Franklin, deployed last year in Kuwait, surprised his family with an early return. The TinCaps helped disguise Conrad as a first base coach in the middle of the second inning. The previous attendance record was 404,932 set during the 2010 season.