MIDLAND, MI - For the first time in franchise history, the Great Lakes Loons are headed to the Midwest League playoffs after a 6-0 win over the South Bend Silver Hawks in front of a crowd of 5,065 at Dow Diamond on Saturday night. Another night of dominating pitching, clutch hitting and sterling defense ensured the Loons long-awaited playoff berth.
After going 40-30 in the first half but failing to qualify for the postseason - becoming the first Eastern division team to win that many games in any half and not nab a playoff spot since the league's 1995 expansion - and finishing at least 13 games ahead of the other three non-playoff Eastern squads (South Bend, Dayton and Lansing), the Loons were widely expected to earn a postseason berth in the second half. Great Lakes started slowly in the second half, winning only seven off their first 18 games, but the Loons got hot in mid-July and never looked back.
They wasted no time in establishing the lead Saturday night, scoring a two-out run in the bottom of the first inning on a double by Anthony Hatch and a single from Midwest League RBI leader Kyle Russell. Russell's RBI was his 95th of the season and proved to be the game-winning RBI.
The Loons young tandem off Nathan Eovaldi and Ethan Martin combined for six shutout innings, with Eovaldi starting and pitching the first three hitless frames before Martin took over and struck out five in his three innings of work.
Their standout pitching was necessary, because the game remained 1-0 into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Loons broke it open with a four-run frame that started with a leadoff walk by Dee Gordon. The Midwest League Prospect of the Year stole second base and scored on a single by his keystone combo partner Jaime Pedroza for a two-run edge.
Bayron Zepeda relieved South Bend starter Randy Rodriguez after the Pedroza single, and promptly served up a single and a hit by pitch to load the bases with no outs. After back-to-back strikeouts, Zepeda uncorked a wild pitch to score the Loons' third run, and Joe Becker provided more insurance for the Loons with a two-run single to make it a 5-0 game after six innings.
Steve Smith finished the Loons third consecutive shutout with three innings of scoreless relief, allowing two hits and a walk while picking up his third save of the year. Great Lakes' pitchers have now hurled 32 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to August 26th against Fort Wayne, and have allowed only three hits in each of the last three games.
Nick Buss plated the Loons final run with a one-out double in the eighth inning. The final outs of the game came on a tailor-made double play turned by Gordon and Pedroza off the bat of Silver Hawks' outfielder Isaias Asencio.
The Loons will clinch the top playoff spot in the second half with a win either Sunday or Monday against South Bend in the final two games of the series. In tomorrow's matinee, right-hander Josh Walter (10-4, 3.55) starts for the Loons against Silver Hawks' righty Eric Smith (0-0, 1.50). First pitch is at 3:05 p.m. at Dow Diamond on another Super Splash Day presented by the Midland Community Center, and kids 12 and under can run the bases following the game courtesy of Farm Bureau Insurance.
The Loons will open up in the playoffs on Wednesday, September 9 at home. The game will be played at 7:05pm. Playoff tickets are now on sale at Loons.com or at the Dow Diamond ticket office.
The Great Lakes Loons are the third-year Single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and members of the Midwest League. For more information about the Loons, visit Loons.com or call 989-837-BALL.
2009 Playoff Clinch Photo Gallery (Photos by Nick Anderson, Loons.com):
The 2009 playoff-bound Great Lakes Loons.
Dee Gordon and Anthony Hatch douse manager Juan Bustabad with Powerade.
Juan Bustabad fulfilled a earlier-season promise by shaving his hairdo into a mohawk.
Loons players (l-r) Kyle Russell, Cole St. Clair, Aaron Miller, Alfredo Silverio, Geison Aguasviva and Bobby Blevins thank the Loons fans for their support.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.