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09/10/2006 8:10 PM ET
Cotto, Whitecaps wrench Lugnuts free
First baseman cranks four hits as West Michigan advances to Midwest Finals
West Michigan's Pedro Cotto plated a couple of key runs on a 4-for-5 night at the plate. (Emily Smith/


Pedro Cotto went 4-for-5 with two RBIs as West Michigan defeated Lansing, 8-2, on Sunday to earn a spot in the Midwest League Championship Series.

After Michael Hernandez's RBI single tied the game in the second inning, 1-1, Cotto chased him home with a double and gave the Whitecaps the lead. Cotto's run-scoring single highlighted a three-run fifth which gave the Whitecaps a 6-2 lead.

"I felt relaxed at the plate," Cotto said. "I just tried to pick a good pitch to hit and I got very lucky."

The 24-year-old first baseman batted .278 in 108 regular-season games for the Whitecaps. He's looking forward to the finals, where his team will face the winner of the Kane County-Beloit series.

"We have to come with the same intensity," Cotto said. "Whatever team we play, it'll be a good series."

West Michigan's Mark Haske and Justin Justice also had RBI singles in the fifth and Michael Hollimon belted a solo homer in the eighth, his second blast in two days and fourth of the playoffs. Four batters later, William Rhymes closed out the scoring with a run-scoring double.

Whitecaps starter Matt O'Brien (1-0) allowed two runs on five hits in six-plus innings, striking out seven and walking three. The 24-year-old right-hander went 8-1 for Class A Short-Season Oneonta and 3-1 for the Whitecaps.

Following O'Brien's exit, Jose Fragoso, Ricky Steik and Anthony Claggett each tossed a hitless inning for the Whitecaps, who defeated Lansing, 9-3, on Saturday.

"I wasn't expecting to win two straight games," Cotto said. "They have a really good team. Our pitching was outstanding in both games."

Jesus Gonzalez slapped an RBI single in the second and Yuber Rodriguez's run-scoring base hit forged a 2-2 tie in the fourth for Lansing.

Trailing in the seventh, 6-2, Lansing opened with three straight walks to come within one swing of tying the game, but the next three batters were retired by Fragoso.

Lugnuts starter Sean Stidfole (1-1) surrendered six runs on six hits while striking out six and walking six over 4 2/3 innings. Jordan Timm walked two in two hitless frames and Paul Phillips yielded two runs in the eighth.

The Midwest League Championship Series begins Sept. 12.

Marc Jimenez is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.