COMSTOCK PARK, MI - Fifth Third Ballpark witnessed history on Monday night.
Evetnually, after 18 innings of baseball, the West Michigan Whitecaps outlasted the Lake County Captains for a 4-3 win in the longest game in franchise history.
West Michigan (18-13) earned their eighth win in the last 10 games thanks in large part to the impressive bullpen depth provided by the top-rated pitching staff in the Midwest League. While the 'Caps were able to get through all 18 innings with true pitchers, Lake County (9-22) was forced to use position players over the last two innings, a factor that proved pivotal in the final outcome.
The previous franchise-record for West Michigan's longest game was set by a pair of 17-inning extravaganzas, and for a time it looked like Monday's marathon might also end in 17.
In a game that had been deadlocked at 2-2 since the third inning, Captains' designated hitter Brian Ruiz put the visitors in front with a 17th-inning single that plated Nellie Rodriguez.
But Lake County was out of pitchers. After his go-ahead hit in the top of the inning, Ruiz was forced to take over on the mound for his first career pitching appearance in the bottom of the 17th.
Though he started the inning with a strikeout, Ruiz's high-70s fastball caught up with him when Tyler Gibson and Javier Betancourt each smacked line-drive singles. Later, with the bases loaded and two outs, Harold Castro drew a full-count walk to tie the score at 3-3.
In the 18th, left fielder Cody Ferrell came in to pitch. Leaning on a high-70s fastball and a low-60s curveball, Ferrell eventually walked four batters to force in the "walk"-off run. The final pitch came with a full count, two outs and the bases loaded. Raph Rhymes drew the game-winning walk as Willy Adames excitedly raced home from third for the 4-3 win.
Will LaMarch (1-0) worked a perfect top of the 18th inning to earn the victory as third baseman Brett Harrison warmed on the bullpen mound. His services were not necessary thanks to Jonathon Crawford (6IP), Zac Reininger (1IP), Scott Sitz (2IP), Joe Mantiply (3IP), Matt Davenport (5IP) and LaMarche, who combined to allow just two earned runs over 18 innings.
The Whitecaps lowered their staff ERA to a league-leading 2.47, more than a half-run better than the next closest team.
Ferrell (0-1) suffered the loss. Like Ruiz, he was making the first pitching appearance of his professional career.
The Whitecaps continue a six-game homestand at Fifth Third Ballpark with a 6:35 p.m. start on Tuesday night against the Lake County Captains. RHP Buck Farmer (3-2, 2.12) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Dace Kime (0-4, 8.86) of Lake County. In addition to a pre-game hat giveaway sponsored by FOX-17, hot dogs will be available for just 10 cents on the first Dime Dog Night of the season. 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.