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Loons win in Merkle-esque fashion

Unusual ruling in ninth leads to victory over Lugnuts in 10th
July 1, 2013

Class A Great Lakes skipper Razor Shines had heard of Fred Merkle and his infamous blunder, but he had never seen anything remotely similar until Monday night.

"I've heard about it happening," he said. "I've never seen it happen. It was weird."

In a play reminiscent of a 1908 game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, umpires overruled an apparent walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning and dragged the Lansing Luguts out of their clubhouse to play extra innings Monday. Dodgers affiliate Great Lakes scored the winning run on Leo Rodriguez's single in the top of the 10th to escape with a 5-4 victory.

The drama began in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, 4-4, when Blue Jays affiliate Lansing loaded the bases with two outs.

Chris Hawkins worked a 3-2 count before drilling a ground-ball single into center field. Dwight Smith came around to score from third, and the Lugnuts began celebrating the so-called walk-off hit. They weren't alone as Shines and the umpires also began filing off the field.

But Great Lakes center fielder James Baldwin turned the tide. The 21-year-old noticed the runner at first base, Santiago Nessy, had turned to join his teammates at home plate without ever stepping on second base. Indeed, the Lansing catcher had stopped about two-thirds of the way to second and cut back into the infield.

Baldwin stepped on second base with the ball, and immediately explained the situation to Shines.

"After the base hit went up the middle, I took my lineup card down and was going inside," Shines said. "Then the players started to say, 'Razor, he never got to second base.' I went out and started the discussion."

Shines headed off umpires Blake Mickelson and Nick Garvey before they left the field and explained what had happened.

"They were telling me that once the runner crossed home plate, the game was over," Shines said. "I said, 'No, no, no. Not in a force situation.' He said, 'No, that's not correct.'

"So I said I was going to play the game under protest. Once I said that, they wanted to make sure that they had made it right, and they got together and they got it right."

The delay was so lengthy that two Michigan television stations and a local newspaper all reported the game a 5-4 Lansing victory before the umpires called for the resumption of play.

The ruling was a rare, but not unprecedented one. In the 1908 game between the Giants and Cubs -- known historically as "Merkle's Boner" -- Giants rookie Fred Merkle failed to advance to second base on a force play that would've scored the winning run.

The umpires in that game overturned the call, but because they couldn't clear jubilant Giants fans off the Polo Grounds' playing surface, the game was called a 1-1 tie. When the teams tied for the National League lead with 98-55 records, the game was replayed to determine the NL pennant winner. Chicago won that game, 4-2, and went on to win the World Series.

The process of restarting Monday's contest wasn't an easy one.

"[Lansing] had gone into the locker room," Shines said. "After my conversation with the umpires, they told me, 'Wait a minute. We have to go get them out of the locker room,' I said, 'I understand that. We can wait.'

"That's what they did. They went into the locker room, got them and we continued playing."

Lansing manager John Tamargo was reportedly not pleased to return his team to the field. The skipper declined to comment after the game.

To Shines, Baldwin was the hero of the moment, and in many ways, the game. The Loons' No. 9 hitter went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double and a run scored, and also picked up a key outfield assist when he threw out a runner at the plate on a sacrifice fly attempt to end the seventh.

"He's done a lot with his glove and his arm," Shines said. "We're fortunate to have him as our center fielder."

Lansing brought in Justin Jackson to pitch the 10th. Brandon Dixon led off with a walk and took second base on a wild pitch. Dixon advanced to third when Aaron Miller flew out to right, then scored on Rodriguez's ground-ball single to right.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.