COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The West Michigan Whitecaps missed out on a chance for their first three-game sweep of the season on Friday, dropping a nip-and-tuck affair to the Cedar Rapids Kernels by an 8-6 score in front of 5,249 at Fifth Third Ballpark.
West Michigan (12-14) won two out of three games in the series against first-place Cedar Rapids (19-7), who got out to a fast start on Friday and led wire-to-wire while withstanding a series of comeback bids.
Whitecaps' starter Endrys Briceno struggled early, allowing the first five batters that he faced to reach base in the top of the first. The Kernels got run-scoring singles from Jorge Polanco, Dalton Hicks and Adam Brett Walker before an out was recorded, and a wild pitch allowed a fourth run to score as Cedar Rapids seized a 4-0 lead.
West Michigan spent the rest of the afternoon playing catch-up, but every time they got close the Kernels seemed to have an answer.
Three singles and an error helped the 'Caps get three runs back in the bottom of the first. Jeff Holm drove in David Gonzalez with a groundout, Jared Reaves scored on a fielding error by the third baseman, and Zach Kirksey added an RBI-single that made it a 4-3 ballgame.
After seven combined runs crossed the plate in the first inning, things settled down until Cedar Rapids loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth. Briceno nearly worked out of the jam by inducing an infield pop-out and striking out Byron Buxton, but Niko Goodrum poked a two-out, two-run single to stretch the Kernels' lead to 6-3.
The Whitecaps countered with single runs in the sixth and eighth. Kirksey led off the eighth with his second homer of the year, an opposite-field blast that highlighted his 2-for-4, two-RBI day. Two innings later, Mario Martinez doubled down the third base line to plate Jake Stewart and cut the deficit to 6-5.
But that was as close as West Michigan would get. With runners at second and third and two away, reliever David Hurlbut needed just one pitch to retire Danry Vasquez on a fly-out to right. Moments later, Polanco ripped a bases-loaded two-run double in the top of the ninth that reasserted an 8-5 cushion for Cedar Rapids.
Devon Travis cranked a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the ninth and Holm singled to bring the potential game-tying run to the plate, but Hurlbut got Stewart to pop-out to center and end the ballgame.
Hurlbut (2) earned the save with 1.1 innings of relief while Cedar Rapids starter Mason Melotakis (2-1) earned the win. The left-handed Minnesota Twins' prospect allowed four runs - two earned - on eight hits over six innings.
Briceno (0-2) suffered the loss for West Michigan despite pitching well in stretches. Hiccups in the first and fourth innings did him in, however, as the right-hander was charged with six runs on eight hits over six innings. He struck out five and induced two groundball double plays while walking three and uncorking a pair of wild pitches. Briceno, 21, finished his outing by retiring the last seven batters that he faced and striking out three of the last four.
The Whitecaps continue a six-game homestand on Saturday night with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch against the Quad Cities River Bandits at Fifth Third Ballpark. RHP Yorfrank Lopez (2-1, 4.42) will take the hill for West Michigan and pre-game festivities will include a "Home Plate" program featuring NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins and former Tiger Frank Tanana sharing religious testimonies. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.
Click here to view the box score.