COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The West Michigan Whitecaps mustered just two hits through the first eight-and-a-half innings on Tuesday night at Fifth Third Ballpark.
That mattered little after a frenzied bottom of the ninth that resulted in a 2-1 walk-off victory over the South Bend Silver Hawks.
West Michigan (32-18, 73-47) opened their brief three-game homestand with a dramatic victory, moving five games ahead of South Bend (27-23, 67-52) in the MWL-East standings and improving to 26 games over .500 on the season - tying a season-high.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the story of the game was Silver Hawks' starting pitcher Sean Furney. The 23-year-old native of Rhode Island carried a two-hit shutout into the final frame, cruising through the first eight innings on just 81 pitches and allowing only one baserunner to reach scoring position during that time.
With Furney back on the hill in the bottom of the ninth, the Whitecaps were still behind by just a 1-0 score.
Francisco Contreras worked a lengthy at-bat to open the inning. After narrowly missing a game-tying home run with a deep fly that hooked foul down the left field line, Contreras worked a 10-pitch at-bat that ended with a bouncing ball deep into the hole at shortstop. Andrew Velazquez made a diving stab to his right, popped up and made a strong throw to first, but Contreras slid in head-first and was ruled safe on a close - and disputed - play.
Furney was subsequently replaced by closer Silvino Bracho, who entered play with a league-leading 22 saves in 24 opportunities.
Bracho's first pitch was bunted by Wynton Bernard, advancing Contreras to second base with one out. Javier Betancourt then stepped in and worked the count to 2-2 before a wild pitch moved the potential game-tying run to third. With the infield drawn in, Betancourt lofted a pay-off pitch that dropped in front of center fielder Fidel Pena to plate the game-tying run.
Later in the inning, there were two outs when Dominic Ficociello flared a ball into shallow left-center. Pena came racing in and slid as he got to the baseball, but it glanced off his glove and rolled behind him. Betancourt scored all the way from first on what was ruled a walk-off double, delivering the Whitecaps an exhilarating 2-1 win.
Artie Lewicki (3-2) earned the victory with two scoreless innings of relief. Montreal Robertson also threw a pair of shutout innings after starter Jonathon Crawford allowed one run over the first five frames. The trio combined to scatter 10 hits - all singles - but gave up just one run thanks to 10 strikeouts and 10 Silver Hawks left stranded on base.
Bracho (3-2) suffered just his second loss and third blown save of the season, allowing one run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning. Furney was charged with one run on three hits over eight frames without figuring into the decision.
The Whitecaps continue a brief three-game homestand at Fifth Third Ballpark on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. against the South Bend Silver Hawks. RHP Matt Davenport (5-3, 2.60) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Ryan Doran (0-0, 1.13) of South Bend on Ronald McDonald House Night with Family Fare fireworks to follow 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.