MIDLAND, Mich. – In just his third game as a TinCap, Robert Hassell III had a historic performance, leading Fort Wayne to a 12-11 win over the Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate) in 11 innings on Wednesday night at Dow Diamond. The 20-year-old center fielder, who MLB.com rates as the No. 3 San Diego Padres prospect and No. 46 prospect overall in the sport, hit three home runs, tying the franchise’s single-game record.
In Fort Wayne’s 28-season history, Hassell is only the third player to hit three homers in a game. Second baseman Jonathan Galvez was the last to do it on July 22, 2010, at Parkview Field against the Peoria Chiefs. The first to accomplish the feat was Jon Benick on July 3, 2002, against the Quad City River Bandits (now known as Quad Cities).
Hassell was promoted by the Padres from Low-A Lake Elsinore on Saturday. All five of the runs he drove in proved essential in a nail-biting, back-and-forth game.
Initially, the TinCaps (50-54) opened scoring in the top of the second, when shortstop Justin Lopez looped an RBI double into left-center to score catcher Brandon Valenzuela from first base. Immediately following, first baseman Zack Mathis slashed a double down the left-field line to plate Lopez. Mathis then came home on a two-out RBI single from left fielder Reinaldo Ilarraza, increasing their lead to 3-0.
However, the Loons (56-48) responded in the third with a four-run inning to take the lead. Highlighted by a two-run home run from first baseman Brandon Lewis, all four Great Lakes runs came after there were two outs and no one on base.
Lewis’ blast started a run of four straight half-innings with a homer. In the top of the fourth, Lopez crushed a two-run homer to right-center for his ninth home run of the year. His 62 RBIs and 22 doubles on the season both rank sixth in High-A Central.
But again, in the bottom of the inning, the Loons knotted the game as shortstop Leonel Valera belted a two-out, solo shot to make it 5-5.
Hassell capped the home run derby-like stretch with his first High-A longball. In the top of the fifth, the 2020 first-round draft pick gave the TinCaps a 6-5 lead with a 397-foot solo shot to right field. In 92 games with Low-A Lake Elsinore, Hassell had homered seven times.
An inning later, Hassell delivered again. On a 1-2 count against a left-handed pitcher, Hassell launched an opposite-field two-run home run 364 feet for his first professional multi-homer game. More importantly, the two-out blast gave the TinCaps an 8-5 lead.
In the home half of the sixth, the three-run lead fizzled away on a three-run rocket from Loons left fielder Joe Vranesh.
Scoring was then halted. Along the way, 2021 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award winner Kevin Kopps pitched a scoreless eighth for the ‘Caps. Fellow rookie righty Luke Boyd worked a no-run ninth.
Tied 8-8, the Loons and TinCaps went to extra innings for the fourth time in their 14 meetings this year. After neither side scored in the 10th, Fort Wayne retook the lead in the 11th when Mathis scored from third base on a wild pitch. Ilarraza added an RBI single. Then Hassell hammered a two-run homer 372 feet toward the right-field corner to provide pivotal insurance.
Great Lakes scrapped back with three runs in its half of the 11th and had the bases full with two outs. Righty Austin Smith came in and quelled the fire by inducing a ground out to save it.
Hassell wasn’t the only newcomer with a banner night. Valenzuela, a 20-year-old from Mexico who’s also regarded as a top-20 Padres prospect, went 3-for-3 with two walks.
Prior to Wednesday, in their first 103 games of the season, the TinCaps had never hit more than two home runs as a team. They finished with four in this game, including Hassell’s three.
Fort Wayne’s win kept Great Lakes a game back of Cedar Rapids for the second-best record in the 12-team league. The top two teams will qualify for a postseason championship series.
Next Game: Thursday, Sept. 2 @ Great Lakes (7:05 p.m.)
· Fort Wayne Probable Starter: RHP Gabe Mosser
· Great Lakes Probable Starter: RHP Bobby Miller (No. 4 Dodgers prospect)
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