South Bend took advantage of a misadventure by Fort Wayne center fielder Alberth Martinez to score twice with two outs in the top of the ninth inning and hold on for a 7-5 victory on Saturday night in the opener of the best-of-3 Midwest League Eastern Division Finals.
Fort Wayne erased a 5-1 deficit after the Silver Hawks scored four runs in the fourth. But Socrates Brito singled home Breland Almadova in the ninth to snap the deadlock. Martinez picked up the ball, then dropped it, slipped and fell to the turf, allowing Andrew Velazquez to sprint home for a 7-5 edge.
Silver Hawks closer Jimmie Sherfy, a 10th-round pick in this year's Draft, retired the TinCaps in order in the bottom of the ninth for the save.
Andrew Velazquez was 3-for-4 with a two-out, two-run single in the fourth for South Bend. Since being moved to the leadoff spot for the playoffs, the 19-year-old shortstop is 5-for-12 (.417).
"Near the end of the season, I started getting on base a lot more," Velazquez said. "I was seeing a lot more pitches, I was going deeper into the count. The leadoff man has to get on; I'll gladly take that role. I've been a leadoff hitter all my life, in high school, when I first started. One, two, nine, wherever they want to hit me, I'll play the role for the team."
South Bend manager Mark Haley had the switch-hitting Velazquez batting ninth during the regular season as he posted a .260 average.
"It was funny because Andrew was in the nine-hole and we started watching his at-bats pretty close," Haley said. "He really started showing a lot of strike-zone discipline, understanding his zone, working counts and having some success. He showed that he matured as a hitter and that he understood how to work counts. [Hitting coach] Jason Camilli said, 'I think it's time to move Andrew to leadoff.' I said, 'So do I.'"
South Bend and Fort Wayne traded homers early. Fidel Pena hit a solo shot to give the Silver Hawks a 1-0 lead in the second, but Tyler Stubblefield evened the score in the third.
An opposite-field blast to right by Brandon Drury started South Bend's four-run fourth that ended with Velazquez's two-run single.
Fort Wayne pushed across two runs in the bottom of the inning as Alberth Martinez scored on a groundout by Padres No. 6 prospect Hunter Renfroe. Luis Domoromo singled home Gabriel Quintana to get the TinCaps within 5-3.
Martinez tied it in the seventh with a two-out, two-run single.
Fort Wayne set a single-season attendance record and could add to it by reaching the Championship Series. The TinCaps have drawn 410,459 fans, eclipsing last year's mark of 408,044.
In other Midwest League action
Quad Cities 3, Beloit 1
Carlos Correa had two hits and drove in two runs as the River Bandits took Game 1 of the best-of-3 Western Division series.
The Astros' top prospect singled home Teoscar Hernandez in the first inning and lifted a sacrifice fly in the third to make it 2-0. Correa is 5-for-11 (.455) in three playoff games.
Quad Cities starter Josh Hader allowed a run on three hits over seven innings for the win and Andrew Walter got the last three outs for his second postseason save. The River Bandits have reeled off 11 straight playoff games, a streak that began in 2011. Box score»