(Eastlake, OH) - For the second time in the last four days, the Lake County Captains (18-20, 45-62) nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback from a monster deficit, only to fall painfully short. Trailing the South Bend Cubs (16-23, 55-53) by as many as six runs, the Captains stormed back in the final two innings, but the game ended with the tying run on third base. Lake County lost in the opener of a three-game series at Classic Park, 7-6.
The Captains' comeback began in the bottom of the eighth. South Bend carried a 7-1 lead into the inning, but Alexis Pantoja led off with a double down the left field line and Mitch Longo knocked him home with a single against reliever Matt Swarmer. Li-Jen Chu came up next and bounced a grounder to shortstop, but Aramis Ademan's flip to second baseman Yeiler Peguero sailed wide to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Conner Capel followed and bounced into a fielder's choice at second base, bringing up Jose Medina with runners on the corners and one out. Medina then launched a three-run home run to right-centerfield to shave the Cubs' lead all the way down to 7-5.
Lake County came dangerously close to tying the game in the ninth against lefty reliever Wyatt Short. Jorma Rodriguez singled and Luke Wakamatsu slammed a double down the left field line. Rodriguez scored all the way from first base to cut the Cubs' lead to 7-6 and Wakamatsu stood on second as the tying run with nobody out. Pantoja came up next and sacrifice bunted Wakamatsu to third base, but Short struck out Longo and Chu swinging to end the ballgame.
The Cubs built their lead slowly, scoring one run each in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings against Captains starter Justin Garza . Chris Pieters hit an RBI single to score Luis Ayala in the first and Alberto Mineo doubled home Andruw Monasterio in the second.
The Captains scored their first run in the bottom of the third on an RBI ground out by Chu that scored Wakamatsu, but the South Bend offense kept slowly pulling away. In the top of the fourth, Mineo hit a one-out single and Pereda followed with a single to left field. Michael Tinsley bobbled the ball in the outfield, allowing Mineo to score all the way from first base. The Cubs tacked on another run in the fifth when D.J. Wilson doubled, moved to third on a ground out and came home to score on an infield single by Austin Upshaw to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead.
South Bend really put some distance between itself and Lake County in the sixth. Garza walked Mineo to begin the frame and then retired the next two batters on a pop out and a strikeout. With Mineo still on first and two gone, Cesar Ventura entered from the Lake County bullpen. The Cubs immediately strung together three straight singles to plate three runs. After Ayala singled, Ademan singled home Mineo and Wilson slammed a single that brought home Ayala and Ademan, extending South Bend's advantage to 7-1.
Cubs starter Tyler Peyton stifled the Captains and earned the win. Peyton (3-3) held Lake County to one run over five innings. The right-hander allowed five hits, walked two and struck out three. Short picked up his 11th save.
Garza (2-6) took the loss. The right-handed starter worked 5.2 innings and allowed five runs, four of which were earned, on 10 hits. Garza walked one and struck out three.
Pantoja paced the Captains' offense with a perfect performance at the dish. The Lake County second baseman went 4-for-4 with a sacrifice bunt and a run scored. Five different Cubs hitters tallied multiple hits on Wednesday, but Ayala and Ademan led the pack with three each, including two doubles for Ademan.
The Captains nearly erased a six-run deficit against the Cubs just three nights after they almost came back against West Michigan. On Sunday afternoon, Lake County nearly overcame a seven-run deficit, pulling within two runs before losing, 9-6.
Lake County takes on South Bend again on Thursday night. First pitch at Classic Park is scheduled for 7:00 PM.
Individual game tickets for all Captains games are on sale at the Classic Park box office, online at captainsbaseball.com and by phone at 440-954-WINS (9467). Mini ticket plans for the 2017 season are still available for great prices complete with several exclusive benefits. Information can be found at the Captains website www.captainsbaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.