So here we are, facing the last game at Parkview Field this season and the Fort Wayne TinCaps are in a hole. In other words, it's set up perfectly.
This isn't a season of front-running for the low Class A franchise. This is a season of defying odds, of coming back, of turning things around, of winning games – lots of them – after they'd been counted out at best, forgotten at worst.
The TinCaps lost 6-3 to Quad Cities in Game 1 of the Midwest Championship Series on a drizzly Wednesday in front of 1,874 fans at Parkview Field. So now they need to win three of the next four games to take the championship. They'll have to win at least two of those on the road.
Game 2, the last home game in a record-setting season at Parkview Field (415,248 total fans), starts at 7:05 tonight.
The odds are against the TinCaps.
So what else is new?
“Nobody's down,” right fielder Nate Easley said. “Everybody knows it's a five-game series. There's nothing to worry about. There's a lot of baseball left. As long as games are left, there's a chance.”
TinCaps manager Anthony Contreras said it was possible his players pressed a bit Wednesday, given the fact many were facing a championship series for the first time. After all, this is such a young team, they have two 17-year-olds in the lineup. This might be the only professional team whose series-winning bubbly is grape juice.
They were down 0-1 against Dayton in the previous round, a more significant deficit considering that was a best-of-three series. They were, long before that, in last place during the regular season's first half before turning into a force.
Contreras isn't worried.
“They've come back many times this year with their backs against the wall,” Contreras said. “That's what this season is for, is to give you experience in these situations. They've got this first one out of the way, they should settle in tomorrow and get back at it.”
A rough first inning for pitcher Pedro Avila, coupled with too many strikeouts at the plate, conspired to put the TinCaps in the 0-1 hole.
Avila gave up four hits and five runs in the first inning, including a three-run homer to J.J. Matijevic. He gave up another homer, to Chuckie Robinson, in the third inning. But, in true TinCaps form, he didn't let the rough times dictate his day. Avila pitched six innings and struck out 12 hitters.
Easley hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first to cut the margin to 5-2 before Robinson's home run increased the lead back to four. That margin was trimmed to 6-3 on a Justin Lopez single that drove in Jorge Ona.
But Fort Wayne left three runners on in the third and two in the fourth, with both innings ending with a strikeout. The TinCaps struck out 15 times.
“They commanded their pitches well,” Easley said. “If they can command and do well and hit their spots, it's going to be a tough task for hitters to deal with. They just hit their spots and executed their pitches.”
Lake Bachar, who threw seven perfect innings against South Bend on Aug. 17, will be on the mound for the TinCaps for Game 2.
Bachar hasn't pitched in the playoffs, but Contreras believes he'll be ready to deliver his best tonight.
“When the time comes and it's a championship series, it's not going to take much to get himself into a groove and get ready to go,” Contreras said. “He's been pretty consistent the way he pitches. He's able to throw three pitches for strikes and command it pretty well. He had that game in South Bend that everybody remembers. He'll come out and realize what these hitters can and can't do and pitch to his strengths.”
After tonight's game, the series moves to Quad Cities for Game 3 on Saturday, Game 4 (if necessary) on Sunday and Game 5 (if necessary) on Monday.
“We want to win (tonight's game) to split it 1-1 going to their place,” Contreras said. “We have to go about business the right way and get that win.”
Easley said a win would be nice, but it take three wins to claim the series, no matter where those games are played.
“We'll play our game and let the chips fall where they may,” said Easley, who is not too young at 21 to know the clichés. “Whether we go down two and have to win, that's not a problem. We're not going to press.”
For those who've paid attention, being down 0-1 isn't the end of the road for the TinCaps. Being down 0-2 would be considerably more daunting.
But if this season has taught us anything, it's to never count out these TinCaps.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.