COMSTOCK PARK, MI - For three months, the West Michigan community watched and waited as the West Michigan Whitecaps worked to rebuild Fifth Third Ballpark after a devastating fire in early January.
On Tuesday, at long last, they finally reaped their rewards.
In front of an enthusiastic and prideful crowd of 7,128 on a beautiful sunny evening, the Whitecaps returned to Fifth Third Ballpark with a nail-biting 3-2 victory over the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
West Michigan (3-2) overcame four errors thanks in part to a tremendous pitching effort in which four Whitecaps' hurlers combined for 11 strikeouts and just one earned run allowed. Wisconsin (2-3) put a runner in scoring position in eight separate innings, but the Timber Rattlers were only 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 men on base - including the bases loaded in the ninth inning.
Both teams crossed the plate once in the opening frame, with the 'Caps tying the score at 1-1 on a two-out single by Ben Verlander that plated Javier Betancourt.
West Michigan pitchers worked in and out of trouble over the next few innings. Starter Jeff Thompson struck out six over 3.1 frames before Julio Felix (1-0) worked 2.2 innings for the win. Felix added four punch-outs and a key groundball double play in the top of the fifth.
Moments later, the Whitecaps took advantage of a costly Wisconsin error to break the tie.
A one-out fielding miscue by third baseman Taylor Brennan put Curt Powell aboard. Betancourt, who was 3-for-4 on the night, added a single and Raph Rhymes drew a walk to load the bases. Dominic Ficociello followed with a run-scoring hit and Verlander added a sacrifice fly as West Michigan seized a 3-1 lead.
That scored remained until the ninth inning.
Montreal Robertson came in looking for the save, but two infield singles and a walk quickly loaded the bases with nobody out for Wisconsin. One out later, Michael Ratterree drew a walk to force in a run and cut the Whitecaps' lead to 3-2.
But, with the bags still packed and the game on the line, Robertson responded by inducing an infield pop-out and a game-ending force-out to strand the bases loaded and notch his second save of the season.
Tyler Linehan (0-1) suffered the loss, allowing two unearned runs on four hits over 3.1 innings of relief.
The Whitecaps continue their first homestand of the season at 6:35 p.m. on Wednesday night with the middle game of a three-game series against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Fifth Third Ballpark. LHP Kevin Ziomek is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against LHP Tyler Alexander of the Timber Rattlers. It will be an SA Advisory Group Silver Slugger Night offering half-price box or reserved tickets to fans 50 and over. Season, 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.