The Lakeland Flying Tigers made history Wednesday night by breaking their single-season attendance record. They almost did it again hours -- many hours -- later.
Led by 10th-round Draft pick Cole Nelson, Lakeland did not allow a hit until the 14th inning, then rallied in the bottom of the 17th for a 2-1 victory over the Dunedin Blue Jays.
Making his second Florida State League start, Nelson allowed only three baserunners -- two Blue Jays reached on errors -- over seven innings. He struck out five and walked one, lowering his ERA to 0.66 in nine games since Detroit selected him 313th overall out of Auburn University.
After going 1-0 with one save and a 0.59 ERA in seven appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, the 6-foot-7 right-hander limited Dunedin to a run on one hit over five innings in his FSL debut on Aug. 26.
Facing the Blue Jays again, Nelson set the tone for a long night at Joker Marchant Stadium. He retired the first 10 batters before Justin Jackson reached on a throwing error by shortstop Gustavo Nunez. An error by second baseman Patrick McKenna allowed Kevin Ahrens to reach in the fifth and Nelson walked Brian Van Kirk in the seventh before getting his final batter, Mark Sobolewski, to fly out.
Former first-round pick Chad Jenkins and FSL All-Star Henderson Alvarez teamed up for Dunedin and matched Nelson zero for zero. Bruce Rondon breezed through the eighth for the Flying Tigers, then pitched around a walk in the ninth. Matt Little followed him to the hill and issued a pair of free passes over two hitless innings.
Wilfredo Ramirez came on in the 12th and pitched two perfect frames. Had Lakeland been able to score in the 13th, it would have produced the longest no-hitter in the full-season Minor Leagues since Fresno's Robert Rowen and Atsushi Tagi pitched a 16-inning gem against Stockton on April 15, 1988.
But the Flying Tigers left two men on base in the 10th and 13th, so the scoreless duel continued.
With one out in the 14th, Jackson singled up the middle for the Blue Jays' first hit. Mike McDade singled one out later, but Ramirez retired Welinton Ramirez to end the threat.
Lakeland appeared set to end it in the 15th, loading the bases with nobody out on a pair of singles and an intentional walk. But Francisco Martinez hit a comebacker to Dan DeLucia, who forced a runner at the plate, then struck out Daniel Fields and Juaner Aguasvivas.
The Flying Tigers finally flinched in the 17th as Moises Sierra hit a leadoff single, McDade was hit by a pitch and Welinton Ramirez bunted both runners into scoring position. After Dan Gentzler (2-0) intentionally walked Sobolewski, Ahrens foiled the strategy by singling to right field to give the Jays a 1-0 lead.
Matt Daly (2-2) relieved Jon Talley to start the bottom of the 17th as Dunedin's seventh pitcher. But he issued a leadoff walk to Gustavo Nunez and a one-out single to Lennerton. Martinez was called out on strikes, but Fields singled in the tying run and Aguasvivas came through with another base hit to end the marathon just past the 4 1/2-hour mark.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.