Eric Smith started for South Bend, making just his fourth appearance in the Midwest League after being drafted 60th overall by the Diamondbacks this June. The 20-year old had some trouble shaking off the nerves early.
"When I came here and found that I was getting the first start, I felt that there was more pressure," confirmed Smith. "But it's just another game. Maybe there's a little bit more pressure, not too much, though."
Smith fell behind the first three batters and loaded the bases on two walks and a single before recording an out in the top of the first inning. That prompted a visit from South Bend pitching coach Erik Sabel, who could tell that his neophyte starter was anxious.
"Just calm the nerves, and pitch the way you're capable of," Sabel told Smith.
After the visit, Smith induced a ground ball double play and a flyout to end the inning, with only one of the three base runners scoring. He would flirt with danger again in the third inning, but held the best offense in the league to one run over six strong frames.
"I was happy with the way he pitched," Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley said. "Bases loaded one out, and they come away with just one run. That takes the sails out of them."
Eric Smith uncorks a pitch while first baseman Ryan Wheeler positions himself
The real story of the night was provided by Fort Wayne starter Simon Castro, however. The Midwest League strikeout leader maintained a perfect game until he plunked Reynaldo Navarro with a pitch in the fourth. He still had a no-hitter going in the seventh when he walked Ryan Wheeler and Justin Parker back-to-back with two outs. Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo reluctantly replaced Castro, who had tossed a complete game no-hitter in the regular season, with Nick Schumacher.
"I did want to stay in, but I was kind of tired," Castro admitted after the game. "I think the manager saw that, so he took me out."
"If he doesn't walk those guys and gets three quick outs - maybe 80 pitches at the end of the seventh - heck man, I'm going to let him go for it," Dascenzo said with the no-hitter in mind. "But it got to the point where he got tired, he lost some command, and we had Schumacher ready. That was one of the hardest times I've ever had to take a pitcher out, but you've got 24 other guys on this team and it was the right thing to do."
Schumacher loaded the bases on a hit batsmen before fanning Clayton Conner to leave the bases loaded.
"Schumacher made a good pitch," conceded Haley. "Our guys know that if we do get a hit [in that at-bat], it's a different ballgame."
The longtime South Bend manager was quick to heap praise on Castro as well.
"With Castro throwing, you can't make mistakes. You just have to hope you stay close like we did. He goes in and out, hits his spots with his fastball. He'll go up-and-in, then low-and-away; he rarely repeats locations."
With the momentum still on their side from Schumacher's Houdini act, Fort Wayne tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the eighth against reliever Bryan Woodall, one of which was unearned. Jaff Decker and Vince Belnome hit back-to-back singles, and Cole Figueroa elected to sacrifice the runners along. Woodall fielded the bunt, but threw wildly down the first base line, allowing Decker to score for the 2-0 lead. Yefri Carvajal then bounced a single into left for his team's lone RBI of the game, making it a 3-0 TinCaps advantage.
The Silver Hawks finally broke up the no-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the frame when Navarro lined a clean single to centerfield off Zachary Herr. That plated A.J. Pollock, who had walked and advanced to second on Herr's wild pitch. The Silver Hawks' shortstop therefore broke up the perfect game, the no-hitter, and the shutout over the course of two plate appearances. Alfredo Marte then singled, representing the tying run, but Herr struck out Wheeler to end the threat.
Brad Brach, who led the league in saves by a wide margin with 33, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two
Silver Hawks to earn his first save of the postseason.
Game two of the best-of-three series will be played Thursday night at Fort Wayne's Parkview Field, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM Eastern Time.
Southpaw Keny Sosa (2-3, 2.19 ERA in regular season) will start for South Bend against Fort Wayne's RHP Erik Davis (16-6, 3.64 ERA in regular season).
Davis' 16 regular season wins was tied for the league lead.
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