Mammoth home run leads Dragons to sixth straight win

The Dayton Dragons are hot. Ruben Ibarra can hit baseballs a long way.

But there’s no kick-back-and-relax satisfaction in any of it. Not in Tuesday night’s sixth straight win, 4-2 over West Michigan, not in leveling their record at .500, and not for Ibarra despite his game-winning 466-foot two-run homer in the eighth inning.

“You’re only as good as your next game,” he said. “The streak’s cool and all but it comes, it goes. You can have a win streak, you can have a losing streak. We have to worry about tomorrow.”

Ibarra’s impressive blast over the concession stand in left field was his sixth since joining the Dragons on April 25. He pondered the distance of his home run for a second but wasn’t overly impressed.

“It was good,” he said. “Could’ve got more on it.”

The Dragons (23-23) won the final five games of a six-game series at South Bend and have moved from sixth place to third place in the Midwest League East Division. West Michigan (26-20) split a home series with the Dragons in mid-April and came to town on a four-game winning streak. The Dragons are enjoying the victories, but part of manager Bryan LaHair’s job is to keep the team grounded.

“The sun comes up, we get up, we eat our breakfast and come to the field, and we work hard, and then we give our best effort at seven o’clock,” LaHair said. “The teams that have talent, and teams that work the way they do, they give themselves a chance to win.”

Ibarra, who is batting .273 and is third on the team in RBIs, impressed hitting coach Eric Richardson with how he approached the home run at-bat. Ibarra just missed on a high slider then stayed focused and homered on the next pitch, a slider more toward the middle of the zone.

“He probably hit it to, I don’t know, Miamisburg or something like that,” Richardson said. “That’s just the type of kid he is and his energy’s electric.”

Ibarra’s easy-going energy served him well in the eighth after Austin Callahan started the inning by reaching on an error. With no outs, the moment was ripe with a chance to take the lead.

“Honestly going into that last at bat I did not feel any sort of pressure because I went scratching for barrels and just missing leading up to that at-bat,” Ibarra said. “I’m not going to back down. You got to come at me with your best stuff. And he did.”

Richardson loves Ibarra’s approach to at-bats and the game.

“He don’t feel pressure,” Richardson said. “We have long talks and this is a game to him and he loves doing it. Pressure to him is someone on their death bed with one breath left. When you look at it like that, there’s no such thing as pressure.”

The other pressure situation came in the second inning. Starter Hunter Parks allowed a leadoff homer and a second run while facing seven batters. He got a strikeout for the second out with the bases loaded, but he had reached his organization-mandated pitch limit for the inning and was replaced by Brooks Crawford.

Crawford ended the inning with a fly ball and retired all 10 batters he faced through the end of the fifth and lowered his ERA to 2.30. Myles Gayman and Jake Gozzo (3-2) allowed one hit apiece over two innings apiece.

“They made a lot of quality pitches when it counted,” LaHair said. “Brooks coming in with the bases loaded, two outs, got the big out right away and took the momentum right out the gate. He did what he’s been doing.”

The Dragons answered the Whitecaps’ second inning with a leadoff double by Austin Hendrick and an RBI single by Justice Thompson. Blake Dunn hit a two-out solo homer, his team-leading seventh, in the fifth to tie the score.

The homers were big, but pitching has been key to the winning streak. The Dragons have scored no more than four runs in the streak and the pitchers have allowed 10 runs on 31 hits.

“We’re all grinding to make it to the show,” Ibarra said. “So let’s let’s make some friendships and let’s get some Ws on the way there.”

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