MIDLAND, Mich. - The Great Lakes Loons dialed up a familiar formula for success Wednesday morning to win a series against one of the league's top teams.
In defeating the West Michigan Whitecaps 6-2 before a big School Kids Day crowd, the Loons looked a lot like they did in April when they were seven games over .500. Specifically, they got good pitching, timely hitting and aggressive baserunning.
The bottom line showed the Loons (18-21) winning two out of three games against West Michigan, who entered Monday's series at Dow Diamond as the first-place team in the Midwest League Eastern Division. The Loons are now five games out of first pending new leader Dayton's game tonight against South Bend.
The Loons came into the Whitecaps series off of a three-game sweep at the hands of South Bend. But Wednesday's win in front of 5,590 fans - the second largest School Kids Day crowd ever at Dow Diamond - continued to erase that memory.
"I can't honestly say we played that bad (in South Bend)," said Loons leftfielder Alex Santana, who had two hits Wednesday and stole home as part of a double steal in the eighth inning. "Our pitchers had some bad breaks, but we know they'll be OK. We know we're going to score runs."
The Loons scored 25 runs in the series with the Whitecaps - who have the lowest earned run average of any team in the MWL. A big chunk of that production came in Monday's 17-1 win, but Wednesday was a more typical showing for the league's most productive offense.
Great Lakes built a 4-0 lead through three innings and added two more in the eighth to put the game away. That was more than enough support for left-hander Luis De Paula, who made his first start and gave up only one run and three hits over six innings.
"He did a nice job and it's good to throw a left-hander out there (in the starting rotation)," said Loons manager Bill Haselman. "He'll continue to start for us."
West Michigan's Dominic Ficcociello homered off of Loons reliever Brandon Martinez to lead off the seventh, but got two outs before giving way to left-hander Michael Johnson. Jacob Rhame and Mark Pope also pitched over the final three innings as Haselman elected to use his bullpen in a more strategic fashion.
"We want to start using the bullpen like it's a higher-level game," Haselman said. "Early on, especially with our young pitchers, we wanted to really monitor how we used them and how often we used them. Now we want to make it a little more realistic, like what you see from the guys on TV.
"If you're a reliever, you're sometimes going to pitch a couple of days in a row as you move up. These guys are ready to start getting used to that."
Pope, whose ERA is now 0.64, pitched for the second day in a row. Johnson (1.29 ERA) also pitched in Monday's game.
Offensively, the Loons got two hits each Monday from Santana, Webster Rivas and Dillon Moyer. Five different players drove in runs, while the other run came on a perfectly executed double steal by Spencer Navin and Santana.
With runners on first and third, Navin took off for second and drew a throw from Whitecaps catcher Bennett Pickar as Santana bolted for home. The throw was cut off by shortstop Willy Adames, who threw home, but Santana slid under Pickar's tag.
"It's a planned play," said Santana. "As soon as I see catcher's transition I take off."
Dillon Moyer also stole a base for the Loons, who now have 80 on the season, nearly 20 more than the next best team in the MWL.
The Loons begin a four-game home series with the Bowling Green Hot Rods on Thursday night. Luis Chirinos (2-3, 7.11 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Great Lakes, while Bowling Green will counter with German Marquez (1-1, 2.03). It will be $1 Family Feast Night at Dow Diamond, in which fans can enjoy $1 hot dogs, 16 oz. Pepsi products, ice cream sandwiches and Better Made chips all night long.
The Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets or more information about the team, call 989-837-BALL or visit loons.com.