After three consecutive false starts in trying to get the 2011 season underway in Lansing, the West Michigan Whitecaps treated the home crowd of 7,738 to a wild, 13-12 come-from-behind victory over the Lansing Lugnuts on an unseasonably warm, 79-degree Sunday afternoon at Fifth Third Ballpark.
After a back-and-forth early going, the 'Caps found themselves trailing 12-7 before a pair of late home runs closed the gap.
In the bottom of the seventh, Luis Castillo started the comeback with a two-run homer over the right field fence. One inning later, James Robbins left the crowd buzzing with a mammoth three-run blast to right-center that bounced off the back of the canopy covering the Miller Light House Deck. Suddenly, the game was even at 12 runs apiece.
Bruce Rondon (1-0) came in for the top of the ninth, mowing through the bottom of the Lugnuts' order with two strikeouts in an impressive 1-2-3 inning that helped preserve the 'Caps' momentum.
West Michigan finished the comeback in the bottom of the ninth, sparked by a leadoff walk to Castillo. He was replaced at first base by Dixon Machado after an unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempt, and Machado proceeded to steal second. With two outs and a runner in scoring position, Rob Brantly smacked a looping liner into center field that narrowly snuck beneath the glove of a diving Jake Marisnick, allowing Machado to scamper home with the game-winning run.
Brantly's walk-off single capped a 2-for-4 day that also included a two-run double in the sixth inning. Brantly, Castillo and Robbins each drove in three runs while Machado went 4-fo-5 with a stolen base and three runs scored.
Lansing's Dayton Marze (0-1) suffered the blown save and the loss, charged with four runs on three hits over the final 2.1 innings.
The early action was equally dizzying.
The Lugnuts jumped in front in the top of the first, taking advantage of a dropped fly ball to plate a pair of unearned runs for a 2-0 lead. West Michigan came roaring back with runs in each of their first three innings, taking a 5-3 lead after three innings of play.
Lansing regained control with four consecutive singles to open the top of the fourth, crossing the plate five times in the inning to build an 8-5 advantage. After Brantly's two-run double in the sixth cut the deficit to just one run, the Lugnuts rallied for another four runs in the seventh - highlighted by Michael Crouse's three-run homer - to build a 12-7 edge.
But the Whitecaps never stopped fighting, ultimately scoring the final six runs of the game to snatch the 13-12 victory.
The Whitecaps continue their season-opening homestand at Fifth Third Ballpark with a four-game series against Great Lakes starting on Monday with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch. RHP Kevin Eichhorn is scheduled to start for West Michigan against RHP Garrett Gould of the Loons. Promotions will recognize the 57th anniversary of the most boring day in history in addition to a JQ 99 All Faith's Night. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting whitecapsbaseball.com.