Josh VanMeter, whose three-run homer on the final day of the regular season spurred the TinCaps into the playoffs, lined an eighth-inning, two-single to beat West Michigan 7-5 on Wednesday in Game 1 of the first-round series at Parkview Field.
The underdog TinCaps, who went 63-76 in the regular season, toppled Midwest League power West Michigan, an 82-58 finisher, on the strength of a bullpen that worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
It took one big hit, though, to get over the top.
With the game tied at 5 and the bases full with nobody out, VanMeter took two big cuts and came up empty to fall into a 1-2 hole against rehabbing major leaguer Luke Putkonen (0-1). He shortened up on his next swing and lined the ball to the left of diving shortstop Domingo Leyba.
The TinCaps took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Dustin Peterson’s two-run double, which perhaps let them relax and gain confidence. But they still fell behind 5-2 in the fifth on a three-run homer by league MVP Wynton Bernard. However, they answered immediately in the bottom half, scoring on a throwing error by the catcher and on Fernando Perez’s RBI single.
Fort Wayne tied it in the sixth on Nick Schulz’s RBI single, and it stayed that way until the eighth-inning rally.
Both starters struggled. The TinCaps’ Jimmi Brasoban gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings, while All-Star Austin Kubitza lasted 5 2/3 and gave up four earned runs on nine hits with five strikeouts.
The TinCaps’ bullpen gave up only two hits and got five outs from Nick Mutz and six from Jason Jester (1-0). Closer Ryan Butler retired Arvicent Perez with a runner on second to pick up the save. The best-of-three series resumes Thursday at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan. Cody Hebner will start for the TinCaps, opposing All-Star southpaw Kevin Ziomek.
For more on this story come back to the Full Count blog later tonight, return to www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m. or see Thursday's Journal Gazette.