COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The West Michigan Whitecaps nearly overcame a 12-walk performance on Sunday afternoon, erasing a three-run deficit to briefly tie the score and ultimately stranding the bases loaded in a 5-4 loss to the Quad Cities River Bandits at Fifth Third Ballpark.
West Michigan (13-15) missed out on another opportunity to climb back to the break-even mark, losing each of their last eight chances to get back to .500 since April 14. The 'Caps are still in position to take the series and complete a winning homestand if they can win the rubber match of their three-game set against Quad Cities (17-11) during Monday's homestand finale.
Sunday's game was sloppy all the way around. The Whitecaps issued 12 walks while striking out 14 times, the River Bandits committed a costly two-out error in the seventh inning that allowed West Michigan to get back into the game, and the umpires found themselves the subject of criticism from both teams throughout the afternoon.
West Michigan was trailing by a 3-0 score by the time Quad Cities' starter Lance McCullers left the game. The 19-year-old McCullers was dominant, racking up a career-high nine strikeouts while allowing just two hits over five shutout innings.
The Whitecaps cracked the scoreboard on a run-scoring single by Devon Travis in the sixth. The base hit extended the second baseman's hitting streak to 15 games and was part of a 2-for-3 day that included two RBI and two walks. Travis now owns the longest hitting streak in the Midwest League this season and the longest Whitecaps' hitting streak since outfielder Jeff Rowland hit safely in 17 straight in August of 2010.
Trailing 4-1, the 'Caps took advantage of a key error in the seventh inning to tie the game. With two outs and a runner on third, David Gonzalez hit a sharp groundball to shortstop that was bobbled by Joe Sclafani as a run crossed the plate. After a pitching change, Danry Vasquez drilled a run-scoring triple to left-center and later scored on an infield single by Travis. All three runs were unearned as West Michigan evened the score at 4-4.
In the eighth, however, more walks caught up to the Whitecaps.
Reliever Logan Ehlers issued a free pass to Brian Blasik to open the inning. A sacrifice bunt and an infield single put runners at the corners with one out. Austin Elkins followed with the play of the game, a squeeze-bunt towards first that plated Blasik for the decisive 5-4 margin.
Three of the five runs scored by Quad Cities came from runners who reached base on free passes. Starter Montreal Robertson issued six of them over four innings while all three West Michigan relievers had at least one walk on their final lines.
In a game in which both teams questioned the strike zone throughout the afternoon, a late umpiring gaffe nearly allowed the Whitecaps to steal a win. Trailing 5-4 in the ninth, Gonzalez appeared to fly out to left fielder Terrell Joyce. Replays confirmed that Joyce dropped the baseball while reaching into his glove to pull it out following the catch, but the umpires ruled it a no-catch as Gonzalez cruised into second base with one out. Quad Cities went on to issue a pair of two-out walks to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth.
The rally - and the game - quickly ended when John Neely (5) struck out Lance Durham swinging to earn the save.
Michael Dimock (4-0) earned the win for Quad Cities, allowing one run and recording one out to end the seventh inning.
The Whitecaps wrap up their six-game homestand on Monday night with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch against the Quad Cities River Bandits at Fifth Third Ballpark. RHP Charlie Gillies will take the hill in his Midwest League debut for West Michigan against LHP Colton Cain (0-3, 11.10) of the River Bandits. Thanks to an All Faith's Night presented by JQ99 FM, fans that bring a worship or community bulletin to the box office will be offered a half-price box or reserved ticket. 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.