Ball lost in sun costly to TinCaps

May 6, 2019

Dwanya Williams-Sutton had his eyes on the ball. It was an easy pop-up to right field in the 11th inning and the go-ahead run was on third base. The TinCaps’ outfielder knew he would have to unleash a good throw to cut down the runner.

Then, as he settled under the ball, the sun appeared, directly overhead.

The ball disappeared in the light. Williams-Sutton called for center fielder Jawuan Harris to help, but he couldn’t get there and the ball dropped as the outfielders collided. 

That turned out to be the game-changing play in Sunday’s series-finale between Fort Wayne and Quad Cities.

The runner scored easily, the River Bandits tacked on another run in the inning and held on in the bottom half to win 4-3 and complete a series sweep at Parkview Field in front of an announced crowd of 5,211.

“Everybody competed today and it definitely hurts,” Williams-Sutton said. “I’m definitely gonna learn from this. (Manager Anthony Contreras) always tells us we’ve gotta learn from our mistakes. I’m just going to work on sun balls with my outfield coach and hopefully next time that comes up, I’ll be better at it.”

The loss is the latest in a rough stretch for the TinCaps (12-17), who have lost eight of their last nine and four in a row. They’ve slipped to a season-worst five games below .500 and got swept at home for the first time this season. 

Now, Fort Wayne departs on a nine-game road trip, one of the longest of the season. Contreras is hoping the time away from home can help his reeling team regroup. 

“We’ve gotta play better baseball than we’ve been playing lately,” the manager said. “Luckily for us, it’s only the beginning of May and we’re gonna go on a long road trip here and hopefully that can kind of reboot the system and get us back on track.

“We’ve talked many times, at some point the guys have to dig a little deep and get out there and execute.”

The game was scoreless into the seventh inning, when the River Bandits (18-10) pushed across two runs, helped along by a balk, against reliever Austin Smith, who was just added to the roster Sunday. 

Fort Wayne forced extra innings thanks in part to Williams-Sutton, who was the TinCaps’ hero before the fly ball dropped in the 11th. In the eighth, Agustin Ruiz doubled home a run to cut the deficit in half, and Williams-Sutton followed with a soft single to center that scored Ruiz to tie the game at 2. The outfielder was jammed on the pitch, but he muscled it on to the outfield grass.

“I’ve been having some stressful at-bats the past few days against (Quad Cities),” the 21-year-old said. “I’m not very good at hitting right-on-right change-ups, but today (right-handed reliever Luis Garcia) threw me a change-up up, and I hit it up the middle. It felt good to tie the game up.”

Fort Wayne got five shutout innings from starting pitcher Adrian Martinez. He was pressed into service when scheduled starter Ryan Weathers was placed on the seven-day injured list before the game. Weathers, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 draft and Fort Wayne’s top prospect, left his previous start April 28 after just two innings.

“It’s precautionary more than anything,” Contreras said of the move to the IL. “The arm is kind of fatigued. Any time you have a top rounder like that feeling something or feeling tired, you want to take all the precautions you can.”