COMSTOCK PARK, MI - After winning the early game by a 5-0 score, the West Michigan Whitecaps fell one run short of a dramatic ninth-inning comeback in an 8-7 loss to the Fort Wayne TinCaps during the nightcap of a day/night doubleheader on Saturday at Fifth Third Ballpark.
West Michigan (33-36) and Fort Wayne (42-26) will meet for the final game of the first half on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.
The Whitecaps jumped out to an early 4-1 lead before the TinCaps surged to seven unanswered runs. That left the 'Caps with an 8-4 deficit as dominant TinCaps' closer Roman Madrid took the mound for a non-save situation in the bottom of the ninth.
Unwilling to go down without a fight, West Michigan's last-gasp rally started with a leadoff walk by Jake Stewart. Danry Vasquez doubled him home with one out and Jared Reaves reached base on an error to bring the potential game-tying run to the plate. Devon Travis followed with the biggest hit of the inning, capping a 3-for-5 night with a two-run double inside of the bag at third that cut the deficit to 8-7.
With the potential game-tying run in scoring position and just one out, the Whitecaps had two of their top three run producers due up in left-handed sluggers Jeff Holm and Lance Durham.
But Madrid was up to the task, striking out Holm looking and Durham swinging to end the ballgame with Travis standing on third.
Matthew Shepherd (4-0) earned the victory while Logan Ehlers (0-4) suffered the loss as the game turned into a battle of the bullpens. Shepherd led three Fort Wayne relievers to 5.1 scoreless innings before Madrid's shaky ninth. For West Michigan, Guido Knudson, Angel Nesbitt and Josh Turley combined for four perfect innings of relief as the Whitecaps' pen set down the final 14 batters of the night.
Early on, West Michigan jumped on Fort Wayne starter Adys Portillo for seven hits over the first two innings to seize a 4-1 lead.
The margin was 4-2 when the TinCaps took advantage of sloppy defense in the fourth to plate six runs and turn the game around.
After a leadoff walk, Ehlers induced a tailor-made double play ball but the resulted in no outs when the flip to second base was dropped by Reaves. Two batters later, Diego Goris clubbed his first home run of the year, a grand slam to left that jumped Fort Wayne in front by a 6-4 edge. West Michigan missed out on two more opportunities to convert potential groundball double plays and committed three errors in the inning. Two more runs crossed the plate when a groundball single by Mallex Smith caromed off of Ehlers' heal and into center field as Fort Wayne seized an 8-4 lead.
As the bullpens took over, that score remained until the Whitecaps' valiant comeback bid in the ninth.
The Whitecaps wrap up the first half of the 2013 season at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon with the finale of a four-game series against the Fort Wayne TinCaps at Fifth Third Ballpark. RHP Edgar De La Rosa (3-1, 6.08) will take the mound for West Michigan against RHP Justin Hancock (4-1, 1.72) of Fort Wayne on a Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Family Day. 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.