When the Dayton Dragons’ playoff quest ended in defeat Friday, they knew Sunday would be their final game. But they had plenty of motivation to go out a winner against Fort Wayne.
“We didn’t want them to celebrate on our field,” Dayton’s Jack Rogers said.
After the Dragons scored four runs in the eighth inning to win 4-2, the TinCaps had to wait until second-place West Michigan lost to Great Lakes before they could celebrate the Midwest League second-half East Division championship. The TinCaps open a three-game semifinal series with first-half champion Great Lakes on Tuesday.
The no-celebration directive came from manager Bryan LaHair.
“That was the message,” he said. “Let ‘em go on the bus and celebrate.”
The Dragons, who finished 67-65 and 34-32 in the second half for a third straight season with a winning record, were in the thick of the second-half race and occupied first place through the first eight games. They spent six days in first or tied for first in early August. Their last day in first place was August 12. They entered the final six-game series with the TinCaps needing to win five of six and needing West Michigan to lose enough games.
The Dragons won the opener 10-4 but lost the second game. Sal Stewart hit a walk-off homer Thursday to keep hope alive. But Friday’s 7-1 loss ended the quest. But not the effort.
“We just wanted to go out of here with a bang and finish strong,” Rogers said.
The Dragons showed desire from the start. They loaded the bases in the first inning and kept putting runners on base. But they couldn’t score.
The TinCaps chose to send Will Varmette to the mound to start the eighth for his Fort Wayne debut. It did not go well. He walked Cade Hunter before Justice Thompson ripped a single to left off the outstretched glove of the shortstop.
Then Carlos Jorge doubled to left-center to plate Hunter with the first run. Then the deciding play came off the bat of Hector Rodriguez. He lifted a fly ball to wall in the right-field corner. Tyler Robertson leaped and had the ball in his glove. But when he hit the wall the ball bounced away and Rodriguez had a two-run triple for a 3-2 Dragons lead.
The TinCaps changed pitchers again and turned to Francis Pena for his club debut. Dragons shortstop Edwin Arroyo greeted him with a first-pitch single to drive in Rodriguez with the final run.
“It was great end for me, my last AB and get a hit and drive him and win by two runs,” said Arroyo, who at 19 is rated the No. 3 prospect in the Reds’ organization.
Dayton also debuted a pitcher in starter Johnathan Harmon. He was promoted after posting a 1.85 ERA and allowing opponents to bat only .197 against him in his last 10 games (nine starts) at Low-A Daytona.
Harmon threw four innings Sunday and allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out five. Andrew Moore allowed a run in the fifth, then Myles Gayman (7-2) pitched three one-hit innings and struck out five. Donavan Benoit pitched the ninth for his third save.
“Guys showed up, guys were on base, we were constantly putting pressure on them the whole game and finally we broke through with a big inning,” LaHair said at the end of his second season in Dayton. “Great win, great way to finish the season, and just looking forward to next season.”