Champagne sprayed all around the TinCaps’ clubhouse Monday afternoon as they completed their improbable turnaround by clinching the final playoff spot in the Midwest League thanks to a three-game sweep over Bowling Green.
After a 4-0 win over the Hot Rods punched the TinCaps’ sixth consecutive ticket to the postseason, pure joy was an emotion, but so was the mentality that the journey is not yet complete.
We don’t want to be satisfied, said Norwell graduate Josh VanMeter, who hit a seventh-inning, three-run home run. If we’re going to get there, we might as well win it all. That’s our goal. We want to keep going.
Given their 17-28 start and 30-39 record at the All-Star break, the TinCaps had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
We didn’t have the best record, team president Mike Nutter said, but when it mattered, there was the steadying influence of (manager Michael) Collins. These guys were ready to compete.
The last time the franchise failed to make the playoffs was 2008, its final year at Memorial Stadium. The six-season run is the longest active streak in the league.
It’s just amazing, Nutter said. The Padres put players here – yes, it’s about development – but they expect their guys to win in Fort Wayne. I think there is a great culture of winning that we try to help foster.
Collins watched his team go 7-2 over its final nine games to wrap up the Eastern Division wild-card spot on the final day of the regular season.
The 30-year-old, mild-mannered first-year skipper then participated in the locker-room celebration.
I’m very proud, Collins said. This is what you play for the whole season. It comes down to the last game, which makes it exciting.
The TinCaps (63-76) and first-place West Michigan (82-58) will match up in the first round, with Game 1 at Parkview Field on Wednesday.
With a 33-37 second-half record, Fort Wayne narrowly edged Dayton (32-38).
The three-game series moves to Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan, for Thursday and, if necessary, the deciding game Friday. It shows the character of every one of these guys, VanMeter said. We never give up. We battled our way into a playoff spot.
A day after the TinCaps swept a doubleheader, they got big swings from VanMeter (four RBI). But Ronald Herrera and three relievers were almost flawless, and the pitching took much of the credit by allowing only two runs in 23 innings at Bowling Green Ballpark.