COMSTOCK PARK, MI - For the first time in the 20-year history of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Class-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers' hosted a pair of Major League rehabbers in the same ballgame.
The crowd of 8,476 was not disappointed, treated to the 12th and 13th rehab appearances in franchise history in addition to a thrilling 4-3 victory as the Whitecaps knocked off the Fort Wayne TinCaps, 4-3, on Thursday night at Fifth Third Ballpark.
West Michigan (16-16, 49-53) overcame an early deficit with four unanswered runs in the middle innings and then withstood a late Fort Wayne (12-20, 55-46) rally to provide 19-year-old prospect Jake Thompson with his first Midwest League win.
Meanwhile, rehabbing Detroit Tigers Omar Infante and Darin Downs experienced different results. Infante, nursing a sprained left ankle, was 1-for-2 with a single and a strikeout to end his two-game stint in West Michigan with two hits in five at-bats. After serving as the designated hitter on Wednesday, he played four innings at second base on Thursday before leaving the ballgame two innings earlier than anticipated. Post-game media reports indicated that Infante would head back to Detroit to be re-evaluated.
Two innings later, his Tigers' teammate came in to pitch the sixth inning out of the bullpen. Downs cruised through a seamless 1-2-3 frame, needing just 10 pitchers to retire the side in order. The left-hander, who made his Major League debut with Detroit in 2012, has been on the disabled list since July 7 with rotator cuff tendonitis in his left shoulder.
Downs' relief effort was part of a strong pitching performance that led the Whitecaps to victory.
Thompson (1-3) started but fell behind in the second inning when a solo homer by Dane Phillips and a run-scoring double by Maxx Tissenbaum gave Fort Wayne a 2-0 lead. He was able to battle his way through the rest of his outing, stranding three runners in scoring position over the next two frames. Thompson was charged with two runs on five hits over five frames, striking out four without issuing a walk.
He was rewarded with the win after West Michigan plated four unanswered runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Connor Harrell tied the game with a two-run homer in the fourth, belting the first pitch he saw over the center field fence. One inning later, consecutive run-scoring singles by Danry Vasquez and Jared Reaves put the Whitecaps in front, 4-2.
The bullpen made it stand up. Downs fired off a scoreless sixth inning, Josh Turley allowed a two-out run-scoring single in the seventh, and Guido Knudson cruised through a perfect eighth as the 'Caps took a 4-3 lead into the final frame.
Closer Corey Knebel (7) came in to protect the slim margin, but found himself in a jam when two singles and a bunt put runners at second and third with one away. The hard-throwing closer out of Texas stayed a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities by striking out Brian Adams and then inducing a game-ending bounce-out from Mallex Smith.
Fort Wayne's Max Fried (4-5) took the loss, giving up four runs on five hits and five walks over six innings of work.
The Whitecaps wrap up their brief three-game homestand at Fifth Third Ballpark with a 7:00 p.m. first pitch on Friday night against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. RHP Endrys Briceno (6-6, 4.15) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Matthew Shepherd (4-2, 3.65) of the TinCaps. Promotions include a Tiger Friday with 1968 World Series champion Don Wert, a pre-game living baseball card giveaway featuring Wert, and the popular Field of Dreams promotion after the game. 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.