FORT WAYNE, Ind. – One night after playing the longest game in franchise history, the TinCaps were on the verge of a second straight extra-inning affair. But on a clear, 65-degree Thursday night at Parkview Field, nine innings ended up being just enough. Dustin Peterson plated Ronnie Richardson on a base-hit to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead Fort Wayne to a walk-off, 6-5, victory over the Peoria Chiefs.
The TinCaps, who lost a 5 hour, 45-minute game to the Burlington Bees the day prior, entered Thursday’s ninth inning tied, 5-5. Richardson, who set the University of Central Florida’s hit-by-pitch record (65), led off and was promptly plunked by the first pitch thrown by reliever Joe Scanio (0-1). With Richardson at first base, the next batter, Mallex Smith, dropped a bunt down the first-base line that he beat out for a hit, while also advancing Richardson to second. Josh VanMeter then laid down a sacrifice bunt to put both in scoring position. Peoria (8-5) turned to right-handed reliever Zach Loraine to face Peterson.
Peterson swung at the first offering from Loraine and lined it to left field, allowing Richardson to score easily. The TinCaps had their first walk-off win of 2014 and Fort Wayne’s dugout raced out onto the field in jubilation. The smiling face of victory, Peterson — selected by the Padres in the 2nd round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft — received a shaving cream pie-to-the-face as a reward.
Meanwhile, the unsung hero of the night for the TinCaps, who didn’t factor into the final decision, was starting pitcher Pete Kelich. The New Jersey native helped save a bullpen which threw 13 innings on Wednesday by becoming the first Fort Wayne (5-8) starter this season to pitch six innings. Kelich allowed a run in the first and two more in the third, as the TinCaps trailed 3-0, but got better as the game progressed. The righty retired nine batters in a row from the third through fifth. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out four.
So as Kelich kept Fort Wayne in the game on the mound, the offense had his back in the third. The TinCaps scored four times, highlighted by a VanMeter two-run double that made it 3-2, a Framily Reyes RBI-double that tied it, and Fernando Perez’s go-ahead single.
Fort Wayne’s 4-3 lead lasted until the eighth. That’s when Tony Rizzotti (1-1), who threw three innings in relief Kelich to further aid an over-used bullpen, allowed two runs on three hits. The TinCaps, though, answered right away in the bottom half. Like Richardson would be in the ninth, Reyes was hit by Scanio to lead the inning off. Following a Perez single and a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Miller, Franchy Cordero drove Reyes home on a sacrifice fly to tie the game, 5-5.
The TinCaps and Chiefs play the middle game of their three-game series at Parkview Field on Friday night at 7:05. Fort Wayne, which put an end to Peoria’s five-game winning streak on Thursday, is set to start right-hander Coby Cowgill against righty Silfredo Garcia. The game can be heard on The Fan 1380 and seen on XFINITY Channel 81.