The Great Lakes Loons (28-30) moved into serious playoff contention with a 6-3 win over the Fort Wayne Tincaps (San Diego Padres) in the opener of a 3-game home series at Dow Diamond tonight.
Coming into tonight's game, the Loons trailed the Tincaps by 1-game and the West Michigan Whitecaps by a half game in the Midwest League's eastern division standings for one of the two remaining playoff spots, however, with the Loons win tonight, they have now drawn even with the Tincaps (27-29) while both the Loons and Tincaps have a half-game lead on the Whitecaps (27-30) who dropped a 7-4 decision to the Dayton Dragons tonight.
The Loons continue to keep starter John Rooney on a short leash, as he was replaced by reliever Darien Nunez after walking 2 of the first 3 batters he faced to start the top of the third, ending his day after allowing just 1-hit and 3-walks, while striking out 3-batters through 2 1/3 innings.
Great Lakes drew first blood, getting to highly touted Fort Wayne starter Ryan Weathers (son of former MLB pitcher David Weathers) when Loons CF Josh McLain reached on a 1-out single in the third, then moved to second and eventually scored on back to back fielding errors by the Tincaps for a 1-0 Loons lead, before Great Lakes second baseman Devin Mann drove in shortstop Jacob Amaya (who had reached on an error) and McLain with a 2-RBI single to give the Loons a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning.
The Loons added to its lead when first baseman Brock Carpenter led off the fourth with a 1-out double and moved to third when Great Lakes catcher Gersel Pitre singled, before both players were driven in on a 2-RBI single off the bat of McLain for a 5-0 Loons lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Weathers (who was drafted in the first round by the San Diego Padres with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft out of Loretto HS in Loretto, TN) was replaced by Tincaps reliever Reiss Knehr in the fourth after giving up 2-earned runs on 6-hits, while striking out 4-batters through 3 1/3 innings.
The Loons plated a run for the third consecutive inning in the fifth when LF Drew Avans led off with a single, then scored on another single by Loons third baseman Luke Heyer for a 6-0 Great Lakes lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Fort Wayne would finally get on the board in the seventh when Tincaps first baseman Jalen Washington advanced to second base on a fielders choice, before moving to third on a wild pitch and eventually scoring on another wild pitch to cut the Great Lakes lead to 6-1 in the top of the seventh inning.
Nunez would go on to walk one and strike out one, after replacing Rooney throughout the next 1 2/3 innings, before he was replaced by Loons newcomer Zach Willeman (a 2017 draft pick of the Dodgers out of Kent State University) who struck out the first three batters he would face (all looking) before a very productive night, one in which he allowed just 4-hits with 5-strikeouts through 3-solid innings of relief, despite two costly wild pitches, which led to an unearned run for Fort Wayne.
The Tincaps tightened things up late in the game when Gabriel Arias (4) belted a 2-run home run, his fourth of the year, to cut the Loons' lead to 6-3 in the top of the ninth inning.
McLain led the Loons, going 2 for 3 with 2-RBI's and 1-run scored, while Avans, Carpenter, and Pitre each finished 2 for 4 respectively.
The Loons and Tincaps will return to Dow Diamond for the second game of this 3-game series at 7:05 pm tomorrow night.
Loons closer Jasiel Alvino strikes out the final batter for the Loons win tonight: