Bowling Green, Kentucky
The TinCaps defeated the Bowling Green Hot Rods in a dramatic, come-from-behind win on Marcus Greene Jr.’s two-run walk-off homer.
With the win, the TinCaps advance to the Midwest League Eastern Division Championship Series.
Greene’s home run capped a three-inning comeback effort that began in the bottom of the seventh. Down 4-1 with one out, Reinaldo Ilarraza hit a ground-rule double to left field and then advanced to third on a passed ball. Center fielder Jack Suwinski hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Ilarraza and cutting the lead to 4-2. Nate Easley and Hudson Potts then drew two consecutive walks, but recently returned Brad Zunica popped out to right field to end the inning.
The TinCaps clawed their way to a tie in the eighth. Greene led off with a single, and Jorge Oña followed with a hit to right field that allowed Green to wheel around the bases to third. After manager Anthony Contreras sent TinCaps’ newcomer Robbie Podorsky in as a pinch runner for Oña at first, and following a Hot Rods pitching change, Gabriel Arias grounded out to short, but placed the ball deep enough to allow Greene to score and Podorsky to advance to second base. Following a Buddy Reed strike out, Ilarraza hit a soft line drive to the middle of the infield, sliding into to first base to beat the throw. The infield hit tied the game at 4-4, but Ilarraza was injured on the slide and had to leave the game.
In the bottom of the ninth, Nate Easley led off with a deep fly-out to center, and Hudson Potts drew his second walk to put the winning run on base. Following a strikeout to Brad Zunica, Greene took the first pitch for a called strike. He sent the second pitch to the deepest part of center field, clearing the wall just slightly left of dead center. Greene threw his batting helmet in the air as he approached home plate and crossed into the celebratory greeting of his teammates.
The exciting comeback was necessary due to a combination of Hot Rods hitting and defensive miscues in the middle innings. With the Hot Rods chasing a one-run lead in the top of the fourth, Rene Pinto hit a leadoff single, and Jesus Sanchez followed with a grounder. Although Sanchez was out at first, third baseman Potts mishandled the ball, preventing a double-play attempt and leaving Pinto safe at second. A single by Jim Haley advanced the runner, and a throwing error on the play allowed Pinto to cross home plate.
The Hot Rods continued their scoring in the top of the fifth, starting with two singles by Luis Rengifo and Miles Mastrobuoni to put runners on first and second. A wild pitch by Pedro Avila put the two runners in scoring position. Garrett Whitley knocked a pitch back to Avila, who went to third in order to try to catch Rengifo who had started for home, but the ball slipped away from Potts, leaving the bases loaded with no outs. Josh Lowe cracked a single to right field, giving the Hot Rods a 2-1 lead with the bases still full. Pinto hit a groundout to Ilarraza, which scored one, and advanced the other baserunners. Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly to increase the lead to 4-1.
The TinCaps led in the early part of the game, following a leadoff home run by Jack Suwinski to right center field, which, with Greene’s walk off, bookended the game with homers.
TinCaps pitching was solid but not spectacular. Starter Avila pitched 4.1 innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits, but he also recorded six Ks. Middle relievers Osvaldo Hernandez and Will Headean performed well, allowing no runs over their 3.2 combined innings of work. Hernandez recorded two strikeouts and gave up one hit and one walk. Headean pitched two complete innings and retired all six batters he faced, including two Ks.
Andres Munoz pitched the ninth, displaying high velocity throughout the inning. After giving up a single to the number nine batter Rengifo, he got Mastrobuoni to fly out to left. Munoz then struck out the next two batters, with third strikes that registered 98 and 99 mph, respectively. The second K caused controversy, as batter Lowe checked his swing on the pitch. Catcher Greene appealed to the field umpire, who ruled that Lowe had gone around. Hot Rods manager Reinaldo Ruiz sprinted to the field, expressing disbelief and bumping into the umpire. After his quick ejection, Ruiz continued to argue with both umpires and eventually threw the dugout garbage can on to the field.
In the other Eastern Division playoff series, the Dayton Dragons beat the West Michigan Whitecaps to force a third game. The TinCaps will resume their playoff run against the winner of that series on Saturday night as they start another best two-out-of-three series.
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.