(Midland, MI) - Emmanuel Tapia waited until his last at-bat of the 2017 season to make history. In his final swing of the year, Tapia launched his 29th home run to break the Captains' single-season record and lift Lake County (27-43, 54-85) to a dramatic win over the Great Lakes Loons (33-37, 69-70). Tapia's blast proved to be the deciding clout in a 10-8 win at Dow Diamond to close out the season.
Tapia had tied the club home run record on Saturday night with a two-run homer in the ninth inning, but the slugger went hitless in five trips to the plate on Sunday and failed to go deep in his first four at-bats on Monday. In the ninth inning, however, Tapia came to the plate with one out, Li-Jen Chu on first and the Captains leading, 8-7.
Tapia was right on the first pitch by Loons right-hander Colby Nealy, fouling it right back to the screen. Tapia then waved at the next pitch to go down in the count, 0-2. Nealy's third pitch missed high to run the count to 1-2. On the next pitch, Tapia took a monstrous hack and crushed a deep drive over the wall in right-centerfield. The 21-year old from the Dominican Republic was promptly mobbed on his return to the dugout. Tapia's homer extended Lake County's lead to 10-7.
The Loons made the last half inning of the season a nail-biter. Dalbert Siri came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth, in search of his 14th save and a season-ending victory. Gavin Lux, however, worked a 13-pitch at-bat against the closer and earned a leadoff walk. Siri struck out Cristian Santana for the first out, but Jeren Kendall followed with a ringing triple to center to cut the Captains' lead to 10-8 and bring the tying run to the plate. Siri got Starling Heredia to pop out to shortstop, but then walked Cody Thomas and Nick Yarnall to load the bases with two outs.
The Loons had the tying run on second and the winning run on first with Steve Berman coming up. With the last game of the year in the balance, Siri got Berman to bounce out to third. Jorma Rodriguez stepped on the bag for a game-, and season-ending force out and Siri earned his 14th save of the season in dramatic fashion.
Lake County and Great Lakes battled back-and-forth throughout Monday's game, which very nearly ended early due to rain. The Captains scored the first four runs of the game. Tapia delivered the first run in the fourth on a double play ball that plated Alexis Pantoja . In the fifth, Gabriel Mejia blooped a double down the left field line that scored Trenton Brooks and Luke Wakamatsu followed with a towering two-run homer in the rain and gusting wind that gave Lake County a 4-0 lead.
The rain continued to pound Dow Diamond in the bottom of the fifth and the Captains needed to secure three outs to make the game official, but the Loons rallied against starter Zach Plesac . Thomas reached to lead off on an infield single to shortstop. Yarnall came up next and hit a towering pop up into shallow right field, but Pantoja lost the ball in the rain and dropped it. Right fielder Conner Capel picked up the rain-slicked baseball and tried to throw to second to force out Thomas, but the rain-slicked sphere slipped out of Capel's hand and sailed over Wakamatsu at second base. Thomas moved all the way to third on the error and Yarnall went to second base.
The next three Loons batters drove in runs and knocked Plesac out of the game. Berman hit a sacrifice fly to score Thomas, Moises Perez doubled home Yarnall and Saige Jenco doubled to score Perez. The Captains' lead shrunk to 4-3 and Justin Garza came in to try to hold the lead. Garza did just that. He picked off Jenco at second and got Lux to bounce out to first for the final out of the inning. The Captains held the lead at 4-3 and the game was official with the fifth inning in the books and the visiting side ahead.
The rain slowed down in Midland, allowing the teams to continue playing. Lake County's sixth inning brought two more runs to provide more cushion to the now-thinned lead. Chu and Tapia hit back-to-back singles against reliever James Carter to begin the inning and Capel followed with a single of his own to load the bases with nobody out. Chu then scored on a passed ball and Logan Ice hit a sacrifice fly that scored Tapia and pushed the Lake County lead to 6-3.
Undeterred, the Loons battled back again in the bottom of the sixth and scored four runs to grab their first lead of the game. Garza walked Santana to begin the frame and Kendall smacked a double to put runners on second and third. Garza retired Heredia on a ground out to third for the first out, but the grounder brought home Santana. Thomas followed with an RBI double to left and Yarnall doubled to right to bring home Thomas and even the score at 6-6. Two batters later, Perez ripped a triple to right field and Yarnall scored the go-ahead run, giving the Loons a 7-6 lead.
Lake County punched right back in the seventh and tied the score. Mejia dropped down a perfect drag bunt to the right side of the infield and raced to first for a leadoff single. The speedster then stole second base and advanced to third on a fly out to center by Wakamatsu. Pantoja then knotted the score at 7-7 with an RBI single to centerfield.
Another infield hit put the Captains ahead in the eighth. Nealy came in from the bullpen and walked Capel to lead off. Ice then singled and Capel advanced all the way to third. Brooks stepped up next and rolled a slow grounder to the right side. Yarnall ranged to his right from first base, but could not make the play. Lux fielded the ball from second base, but Nealy could not cover first base in time for Lux to attempt a throw. Brooks reached on an infield single and Capel scored to give the Captains an 8-7 advantage. The Captains led the rest of the way from there and held on thanks to Tapia's home run, which proved to be the difference in the victorious season finale.
Lefty reliever Alsis Herrera picked up the win for Lake County. Herrera (6-2) worked 2.1 scoreless innings and gave up two hits. He struck out three and walked one. Siri finished with a final line of one inning pitched, one run, one hit, three walks and one strikeout, en route to the save.
Nealy (0-1) took the loss. The right-hander worked two innings and allowed three runs on four hits. He walked two and did not record a strikeout.
The Captains finished the season with 153 home runs to lead the Midwest League and fall just two long balls shy of tying the league single-season record. The 1961 Waterloo Hawks still own the team home run record with 155 homers.
Lake County will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, as will the Loons, who won the championship last season. The Captains open the 2018 season at home on April 5 against the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Information about Classic Park or the Captains can be found online at www.captainsbaseball.com and by phone at 440-954-WINS (9467). The Captains front office can be reached at 440-975-8085.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.