MIDLAND, Mich. - Lansing knuckleballer Frank Viola III said he pitched to "contact" Saturday against the Great Lakes Loons.
Unfortunately for the Loons, contact meant rally-killing double plays.
The 29-year-old Viola - who is attempting a professional baseball comeback with the knuckleball as his primary pitch - induced five Loons double plays in 6.2. scoreless innings, leading the Lugnuts to a 3-0 win before 5,299 fans at Dow Diamond. For Viola, it was his first win as a pro since 2005.
"That sounds about right … nine years," said Viola. "It feels good to get one, that's for sure. But I had a lot of help tonight. The guys behind me deserve it as much as me."
The Loons had eight hits off of Viola but saw two one-out, two men on, scoring opportunities erased by double plays. Viola left in the seventh after loading the bases with two outs, but Lansing reliever Phil Kish retired the Loons Dillon Moyer on a ground out.
"The double plays - that's what hurts," said Loons manager Bill Haselman. "We got some hits off of him, but he mixed in some other pitches to keep us off balance."
The Lugnuts scored two runs off of Loons starter Brandon Martinez (1-3) in the third inning, on a single by Matt Dean and a sacrifice fly by L.B. Dantzler, and added another in the sixth off of reliever Luis Chirinos on a single by Jason Leblebijian.
Martinez pitched with runners on base in every inning, but except for the third inning, escaped serious damage. Chirinos pitched three innings, surrendering three hits while allowing one run, while Ralston Cash pitched a scoreless ninth. Kish and closer Griffin Murphy combined to throw 2.1 scoreless innings for the Lugnuts, with Murphy notching his 11th save.
Malcolm Holland and Alex Santana each had two hits for the Loons, who fell to 33-36 with one game left in the Midwest League's first-half. Holland has six hits in his last three games.
The two teams wrap up their three-game series, and the first-half, with a 3:05 p.m. game Sunday at Dow Diamond. Jordan Hershiser (0-0, 2.00 ERA) will start for the Loons, while Jeremy Gabryszwski (4-2, 3.35) starts for Lansing.
Tomorrow's game will feature a Pre-Game Youth Baseball Clinic, sponsored by Farm Bureau Insurance, while kids will get to run the bases for free following the game.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and information about the team, call 989-837-BALL, or visit loons.com.