On the brink of advancing to the Midwest League championship series for the first time, the Dayton Dragons can only wonder what might have been.
After winning the Eastern Division Championship series opener, the Dragons dropped two straight home games to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, including Monday’s 3-0 putout that ended their season. The Cincinnati Reds’ low-Class A affiliate also lost Sunday’s game 6-0 in the best-of-3 series.
Fort Wayne and Quad Cities will decide the best-of-5 championship. Quad Cities advanced Monday by eliminating Peoria 6-1 in the Western Division championship.
“Especially after taking that first game at their place, we thought we were going to come in here and get it done,” Dragons first baseman Bruce Yari said. “It’s just a matter of a couple things not quite going our way. That’s baseball.”
Fort Wayne did exactly to Dayton what the Dragons did to West Michigan in first round of the Eastern Division series, sweeping the final two games after losing the first.
Dayton ends the season at 71-70 overall, the first with Luis Bolivar as manager. The Venezuela native, who became a U.S. citizen in midseason, has the longest tenure of anyone else with the Dragons besides management. He started as an all-star player with the team, became the hitting coach soon after retiring as a player and succeeded Dick Schofield as manager prior to this season.
Dayton’s turnaround from last season’s 47-93 disappointment was remarkable considering a new manager was in place, there were season-ending injuries to key players and the usual call-ups of players essentially gutted the team’s makeup at midseason.
The team rallied around Jose Siri’s second-half hitting streak. His Midwest League 39-game record streak started June 22. By the time it ended Aug. 4 he had brought national media attention to the Dragons and snapped a 40-year-old record.
It was fitting that Siri produced the final Dragons hit of the season, a sharp single to left field in the ninth inning on Monday. But Dayton could muster two more hits, and none after the fourth. Dayton had no answer against TinCaps starter Michel Baez (7-2), a Cuban who signed with the Padres as a prized free agent last December. He went five innings, struck out seven and allowed two hits.
Dragons starter Andrew Jordan (7-9) took the loss, lasting 1 1/3 innings and allowing all three runs, all earned.
“When you’re in the playoffs, pitching and defense, that’s the name of the game,” Bolivar said. “We ran into a tough one.”
The parent club Cincinnati Reds will announce the Dragons staff for next season early next year. Derrin Ebert has been the pitching coach the last two seasons. New this season were hitting coach Daryle Ward and bench coach Kevin Mahar.
Dayton was 41-29 and earned a first-half wildcard postseason spot behind West Michigan. However, Dayton slumped to 30-40 in the second half before recharging prior to the playoffs. It was only the fourth time Dayton advanced to the divisional championship and first since 2008.
“It’s been great,” Bolivar said. “This year was more than what I expected. The guys had fun and they got better. That was the main thing. At the beginning of the year we talked about how we wanted to develop the guys with a winning attitude and the players’ development and abilities as well. We’re proud of those guys and we accomplished a lot this year.”