Dragons rout Fort Wayne, keep playoff hopes alive

New Dragons pitcher Thomas Farr started Wednesday night against Fort Wayne and allowed one run in three innings and struck out four in his third professional start. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
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New Dragons pitcher Thomas Farr started Wednesday night against Fort Wayne and allowed one run in three innings and struck out four in his third professional start. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Entering the season’s final six-game series, the Dayton Dragons’ playoff hopes were just a nice thing to hope for. They were four games out of the second playoff spot with three teams in front of them.

Two days later, those same three teams are still in front of Dayton. But the Dragons are now only two games out with four to play. And their bats are breathing fire.

One night after scoring 10 runs against Fort Wayne, the Dragons hammered the TinCaps again in a 9-2 victory Wednesday night at Day Air Ballpark.

“We’ve just got to keep playing the same baseball that we’re playing,” outfielder Jacob Hurtubise said.

If the Dragons, who will have a winning record for the first time since 2017, somehow pass all three teams or at least win tiebreakers, they will host the first two games of the High-A Central League’s best-of-five championship series next Tuesday and Wednesday against Quad Cities.

“It would be incredibly special,” said Hurtubise, who’s been with the team all season. “Guys coming in and out all year long, but everybody that we’ve brought in has the same goal, and we’re all trying to win every single game.”

The Dragons (61-55) spent most of the first half of the season in first place in the East Division and last shared first place on Aug. 20. The Dragons, Lake County (63-53) and Great Lakes (62-54) have been chasing Cedar Rapids (63-53) of the West Division for weeks in pursuit of the second playoff spot.

With Cedar Rapids and Lake County tied and Great Lakes a game up on Dayton, the Dragons might have to sweep Fort Wayne to have a chance. The Dragons haven’t swept a series all season. They do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Great Lakes and Cedar Rapids but not Lake County.

Hurtubise isn’t worried that the team will become distracted by thoughts of going home after Sunday’s final regular-season game.

“Our stat line at the end of the year we call it our stamp,” he said. “So we’re all trying to get our final stamp. Every game that we’re able to put a couple walks, put a couple hits it’s only going to increase that stamp at the end of the year.”

Some of the second-half additions put their stamp on Wednesday’s win. Outfielder Allan Cerda hit a two-run double in the first inning and scored from first on Juan Martinez’s double in the third for a 3-0 lead. Shortstop Matt McLain, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick this year, put the final three runs on the board with his first home run in Dayton, a blast to dead center field in the seventh.

If the season was divided in two halves as it has been for years, the Dragons would have won the first half and secured a playoff spot. But in this COVID-shortened season it’s the two best records regardless of division that make the playoffs. Many of those first-half players are gone, but Hurtubise said the fun and friendly clubhouse that characterized the team in the early summer hasn’t changed.

“I don’t think it takes much,” he said of making new players feel welcome. “It’s just being the warm team that we are. We’ve got all the inside jokes and we bring them into those jokes – just having fun with them and welcoming them.”

Thomas Farr, the Reds’ fifth-round draft choice this year from the University of South Carolina, made his first start for the Dragons and the third of his short professional career. Farr allowed one run in three innings and struck out four and left with a 3-1 lead.

2022 schedule: The Dragons will open next season’s 132-game schedule at home on Friday, April 8, against Fort Wayne. That’s an increase from this season’s late-starting 120-game schedule but shorter than the 140-game schedules that preceded 2020.

Much of next season will follow this season’s pattern of six-game series from Tuesday through Sunday with a few exceptions. Mondays will be off days except for July 4. The season concludes September 4. The full schedule is available at milb.com/dayton.

FRIDAY’S GAME

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

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