(Eastlake, OH) - Eight months after pitching the Cleveland Indians to the World Series, impromptu Cleveland folk hero Ryan Merritt made an impromptu start back at Classic Park. The left-hander who made a spot start in Game Five of the 2016 American League Championship Series and helped propel Cleveland to the World Series last October made a cameo start with the Lake County Captains (23-40) on Monday and helped the Captains seal a 5-4 victory over the Bowling Green Hot Rods (30-33).
Merritt (1-0) has been pitching at Triple-A this season, but the Columbus Clippers had a day off and Merritt was scheduled to pitch, so the left-hander returned to the Captains for the first time since 2013. In a spot start against Bowling Green, Merritt treated Captains fans to seven strong innings on the hill. Merritt gave up just two runs on seven hits en route to the victory, his seventh of the year, tacking on another win to the six he owns with Columbus.
Merritt filled the strike zone on Monday. The lefty needed just 79 pitches to last seven frames. Of those 79 pitches, Merritt fired 60 for strikes. The southpaw struck out four and walked one. The only runs he surrendered came on a second-inning RBI single by Garrett Whitley and a sixth-inning RBI ground out by Jonah Heim.
Lake County provided plenty of offensive clout to support of Merrit. The Captains went deep three times against Hot Rods starter Adrian Navas. Miguel Eladio got the home run party started in the first with his fourth home run in four days. After Junior Soto reached on an infield single, Eladio belted a two-run shot to left.
Two innings later, the Captains' homer-happy bats struck again. Soto led off the third with a solo shot for his first long ball of the year to give Lake County a 3-1 lead. Later in the frame, the Captains pushed their lead to 4-1 when Kevin Bradley hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to plate Li-Jen Chu. Chu delivered the Captains' final run with a solo blast in the fifth. The homer was Chu's eighth of the year and gave the Captains a 5-1 lead.
Bowling Green battled back late and made the game a nail-biter down the stretch. Ryder Ryan relieved Merritt in the eighth and the Midwest League All-Star gave up a leadoff double to Jesus Sanchez. Mike Brosseau followed with a single, but Todd Isaacs made a clutch play in left. Sanchez tried to score on Brosseau's hit, but Isaacs fired home and threw the runner out at the plate. That play turned out to be important, as Nate Lowe followed with a two-run home run. The long ball would have tied the game, if not for Isaacs' heave. Instead, it cut the Captains' advantage to 5-4.
The Hot Rods threatened in the ninth, but Ryan nailed down the final out in a tight spot. Ryan had retired the first two batters when Lucius Fox lifted a soft fly ball to left. Isaacs could not see the ball in the lights and it landed behind him. Fox raced to second with a double and the Hot Rods had the tying run on second. Ryan, however, got Sanchez to bounce out to first to end the ballgame. Ryan earned his fourth save of the year in the process.
Navas (4-6) suffered the loss. The right-hander gave up five runs over six innings, including three home runs. Navas surrendered seven hits, hit one batter and struck out five.
Lake County clinched a series victory with Monday's win, taking three out of four against the Hot Rods. It was the Captains' first series win since May 15-17 when they took two out of three at Great Lakes. The Captains also captured their second home series victory. Their other was also against Bowling Green in April.
The Captains remain home on Tuesday to begin a three-game series against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. It will be Lake County's last home series of the first half. First pitch on Tuesday 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). 12-, 20-, and 35-game mini ticket plans for the 2017 season are on sale now at 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.