Fort Wayne, Indiana
The Quad Cities River Bandits started the Midwest League Championship with a bang, sending eight batters to the plate in the first inning, resulting in a 5-0 lead that eventually led to a 6-3 win in the first game of the series.
As the championship series began, the TinCaps had one of their most reliable starters on the mound in Pedro Avila, who entered the game with a 7-1 record and 3.05 ERA.
The Kernels jumped on Avila early, however, with back-to-back base hits: a lead-off single by Chas McCormick followed by Colin Moran’s hit to right field that put runners on first and third. After recording his first strikeout, Avila faced clean-up hitter Chuckie Robinson, who hit a grounder to third baseman Hudson Potts. Without a play at home or at second, Potts threw to first, allowing a run to score and putting Moran in scoring position.
With two outs, Abraham Toro knocked a deep drive off the right field wall for a bases-clearing triple.
The next batter, Josh Rojas, walked, bringing J.J. Matijevic to the plate. Matijevic launched a rocket to right-center field for a three-run homer that increased the River Bandits’ lead to 5-0, which would prove enough to take home the victory.
The TinCaps scored their final run in the bottom of the fourth. Jorge Oña drew a lead-off walk to start the inning. Justin Lopez, who has replaced the injured Reinaldo Ilarraza at second, smacked a two-out single off the right field wall to bring Oña around.
Aside from their three runs, the TinCaps struggled at the plate.
River Bandits’ pitching combined for a total of 16 Ks on the night, and five TinCaps struck out two or more times. Aside from Easley’s home run, the TinCaps recorded six hits, all of which (like the first game of the Divisional Championship) were singles.
Avila settled into a more comfortable rhythm after the first inning.
The River Bandits added a run in the top of the third on a Robinson solo home run to left field, but otherwise Avila returned to form, recording 12 Ks in six innings of work, including striking out the side in the top of the second. Reliever Jim McDade had a strong outing, facing ten batters in three innings of relief, giving up only one walk and recording four strikeouts. In total, from the second to ninth innings, the River Bandits had only four baserunners—but the damage had already been done.
The TinCaps will look to rebound from the 6-3 loss on Thursday night with the second game of the series and the final home game of the season at Parkview Field. Lake Bachar is expected to start for the TinCaps.
Ken A. Bugajski lives and works in Fort Wayne, Indiana. An English professor by trade, he spends many summer nights with his wife and daughter at Parkview Field, home of the TinCaps.