FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Patrick Sandoval didn’t feel like he had his best stuff Thursday night.
It didn’t matter.
With an early lead and the precision work of an error-free defense behind him, the Quad-Cities lefthander rode momentum from an inning-ending play at the plate to lead the River Bandits to a 5-0 shutout of Fort Wayne and a road sweep of the first two games of the Midwest League Championship Series.
The game-changer came in the bottom of the fourth with Quad-Cities leading 1-0 and the TinCaps’ Jorge Ona racing toward home plate.
He was attempting to score from first following a two-out single to right-center by Gabriel Arias, seeing an opportunity when right fielder Josh Rojas slipped.
Rojas recovered in time to rifle a throw from his knees to Abraham Toro-Hernandez, whose relay throw to Chuckie Robinson arrived in time for the River Bandits’ catcher to apply the inning-ending tag.
“After that point, it felt like nothing could go wrong,’’ Sandoval said. “To have those guys behind me, playing the kind of defense they were playing, that gave me so much confidence.’’
Quad-Cities manager Russ Steinhorn praised the execution from the start to the finish of the play.
“We needed that play. In a 1-0 game, momentum could have really turned right there, but we kept the lead intact and kept the momentum on our side,’’ Steinhorn said.
Sandoval celebrated with a fist pump and went back to work, pitching into the seventh before Salvador Montano finished off the seven-hit victory. It brings Quad-Cities home Saturday needing one win in the final three games of the best-of-five series to earn the franchise’s third Midwest League pennant in seven years.
“We talked about coming here and stealing a couple wins on the road and to win two in Fort Wayne, it’s put us right where we want to be coming home,’’ Sandoval said.
For the second straight game, the River Bandits gave their starting pitcher a lead to work with before he ever took the mound.
Toro-Hernandez lined a two-out single into center in the top of the first inning to score Colin Moran, who had walked and advanced on the first of Troy Sieber’s two singles.
The Bandits missed plenty of opportunities to extend the early 1-0 lead, stranding nine runners through five innings as Sandoval continued to grind away, scattering six hits and striking out two batters in his six-inning start.
Sandoval, who has allowed two runs on nine hits over 12 ⅔ innings in two postseason starts, kept Fort Wayne off the board. He exited after Arias opened the TinCaps’ seventh with his second extra-base hit of the game.
“Sandoval wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him,’’ Steinhorn said. “But, he made big pitches in big moments. He came through in the clutch and when Montano came in, three shutout innings, one hit, we couldn’t ask for more.’’
Quad-Cities chased TinCaps starter Lake Bachar from the game one out into the fourth but didn’t score again until it bunched together three hits to open a two-run sixth inning.
Wander Franco started things off by lining a double to left and advanced to third on a single by Kristian Trompiz. Both came around to score, Franco on a single to left by Chas McCormick and Trompiz on a single up the middle by Sieber.
The Bandits added insurance runs with two-out hits in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Moran drove Trompiz in with a single in the eighth inning before J.J. Matijevic finished off Quad-Cities’ 12-hit attack by scoring pinch runner Cody Bonanek when he drove a double to right in the ninth.
“Our guys kept working, kept doing what they do right to the end,’’ Steinhorn said. “That’s gotten us this far. We won’t change anything now.’’