Dragons beat Fort Wayne in extra innings, keep slim playoff chances alive

Dragons starter James Marinan pitched six scoreless for the second time in as many starts for the Dragons since joining the team Sept. 9. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
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Dragons starter James Marinan pitched six scoreless for the second time in as many starts for the Dragons since joining the team Sept. 9. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Every anxious moment matters this week for the Dayton Dragons as they try to earn a spot in the playoffs. The season is down to this: The Dragons must win their final three games to have a chance.

And that might not be enough.

The Dragons and the three teams in front of them won Thursday night, keeping the Dragons two games behind Lake County and Cedar Rapids and one game behind Great Lakes in the race for the final playoff spot in the High-A Central League.

Lake County owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dragons. To surpass the Captains, the Dragons must go 3-0 and the Captains must go 0-3. Then if the Dragons do no worse than tie the other two teams, they will open the best-of-five championship series at home Tuesday against Quad Cities.

Not impossible, but little involved in the scenarios is in the Dragons’ control.

“We’re in the thick of it,” infielder Ivan Johnson said. “We gotta hope we get a little lucky and some teams lose out. We’re just going to keep battling.”

The moments to battle through Thursday that kept the Dragons alive created high levels of anxiety in the dugout. But the pressure was finally released when Johnson lined a single down the right-field line in the 10th inning to bring home the winning run in a 6-5 victory over Fort Wayne at Day Air Ballpark.

The Dragons pinch ran the speedy Michael Siani as the runner who starts at second base in extra innings. Jacob Hurtubise, a good bunter, pinch hit to bunt, but the TinCaps intentionally walked him. Johnson then delivered the fourth walk-off win of the season.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Johnson said. “With runners on I knew they were going to give me something to hit – just put it in play and luckily it stayed fair.”

And what’s a walk-off win without a celebration mob that ends up in the middle of center field.

“As soon as you see it go fair you know there’s about to be a party,” Johnson said. “Just get out of the way and hope you don’t get stepped on and have a good time.”

The Dragons have won three straight and five of six. They took an early 3-0 lead on back-to-back homers by Mariel Bautista and Reyny Reyes. The lead grew to 5-0 before the TinCaps scored twice in the seventh.

Vin Timpanelli pitched a solid eighth inning and started the ninth. But the inning went awry for third baseman Victor Ruiz and eventually Timpanelli. Ruiz dropped a foul ball for an error that would have been the first out. That batter and the next one walked. Then Ruiz pulled the first baseman off the bag for another error to load the bases.

Timpanelli hit the next batter to force in a run. Pedro Garcia relieved and the TinCaps tied the score when Justin Lopez’s singled sneaked through the right side for two runs.

John Ghyzel started the 10th for the Dragons and kept the runner at second base with a walk and three strikeouts.

“The adrenaline’s pumping anytime you go into a game regardless of the situation,” he said. “Obviously, extra innings, postseason on the line, the stakes are a little bit higher. Our whole philosophy in the Reds’ minor leagues this year is we’re just going after strikeouts. That’s what we’re chasing always, but obviously in that situation it helps even more.”

Fort Wayne’s comeback robbed starter James Marinan of a second victory in as many starts with Dayton. He pitched six scoreless innings for the second time. He allowed three hits, four walks and struck out six.

“He’s got big-time stuff and was drafted out of high school with just electric stuff,” Ghyzel said.

Marinan was drafted by the Dodgers in the fourth round in 2017. The Reds traded for him that summer.

“He’s been grinding in the minors for a few years just like most of us, and he’s really figuring it out,” Ghyzel said. “I’m really happy that he was able to come up and help the team. He’s been instrumental in two big wins during this playoff push.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Fort Wayne at Dayton, 7:05 p.m., Dayton CW, 980