Captains win in walkoff fashion, 2-1
EASTLAKE- It took 11 innings on Monday night, but the Captains (22-22) finally broke through against the first-place Lansing Lugnuts (31-13), winning by a score of 2-1.
In the bottom of the 11th inning, Lake County only hit one ball out of the infield. That play also resulted in their only out of the inning, a lineout to left field by shortstop Francisco Lindor. Lugnuts’ left fielder Kevin Pillar made a spectacular diving grab to rob Lindor of his first hit of the series. The eighteen year-old finished the series 0-12. That didn’t matter, however, when right-fielder Jordan Smith stepped into the box with the bases juiced against reliever Javier Avendano (1-3, 1.72).
It took just an 80 foot dribbler from Smith to first base to push the final run of the evening across the plate, over three hours after the first pitch was thrown. Lansing first baseman K.C. Hobson attempted to gun down pinch runner Zach MacPhee at the plate, but his throw short-hopped catcher Chris Schaeffer. The ball skipped off the heel of Schaeffer’s glove as MacPhee slid in behind him with the winning run. The way the series went for the Captains against a dominant Lansing staff, it wasn’t a surprise that no hit left the infield in the 11th.
“I’ll take it, but it wasn’t pretty,” said Smith of the walk-off, ruled an error on Hobson.
Closer Jeff Johnson (3-1, 6.62) tossed 1 and two-thirds innings of perfect baseball, striking out two to pick up the win for Lake County. Avendano was the loser for Lansing, his third defeat of the campaign.
Going into the ninth, the Captains had been held scoreless since the second inning of Saturday night’s bout with Lansing, a streak of 24 consecutive frames. Jordan Smith played a crucial role in halting the streak at 24 and two-thirds innings in the bottom of the ninth. With A.J. Meyer, the Lugnuts’ usual closer, given the night off, manager John Tamargo Jr. brought in Eric Brown to close the game. Brown surrendered a one out walk to left fielder Todd Hankins. Jordan Casas, back in Lake County after a brief stint with the Akron Aeros, lined an opposite-field double into the gap in left, putting runners on second and third. Lansing made the decision to intentionally-walk Lindor, bringing Smith to the plate with the bases loaded.
In just his second at-bat on the season with the bags full, Smith hit a groundball back through the box that was fielded by shortstop Shane Opitz, who tagged second for the force out. His throw to first pulled Hobson off the bag, allowing Hankins to score from third. It was the 15th RBI of the year for Smith.
Not only were the Captains playing the final game of the series in front of a crowd of 3,173, but Indians’ manager Manny Acta was also amongst the spectators. Acta took in the game from the front row next to the Lake County dugout.
“It was fun to have him here,” said skipper Dave Wallace of Acta’s appearance. “It brought the extra energy to the team on a night when we needed it.”
It took eight innings for either to put a tally on the board Monday night at Classic Park and, as it was the entire series, it was the Lansing Lugnuts coming through with an RBI. Reliever Rob Nixon gave up a leadoff single to Lansing second baseman Jon Berti. After a sacrifice bunt, right fielder Chris Hawkins served his fifth hit of the series to the gap in left field to score Nixon. The 14th RBI of the season for the Lugnuts third-place hitter put the visitors up 1-0.
With two-outs, Lansing had a chance to score a second run when left fielder ripped a single to his counterpart Todd Hankins. However, after fielding the ball, Hankins threw a frozen rope to catcher Alex Monsalve who applied the tag to nail Hawkins at the dish for the third out of the inning.
The Captains attempted to knot the score right away in the bottom of the eighth. Designated hitter Alex Lavisky opened the inning with a hard single to left field and was replaced by pinch-runner Nick Bartolone. The San Ramon, CA. native advanced to second on a sac bunt, brining second baseman Robel Garcia to the dish. Garcia drove a ball deep to center field for an out, but Bartolone got caught in no-man’s land while the ball was in the air, tagging from second late. As a result, he was gunned down at third base to put a quick end to the Captains mini-rally.
Tremendous pitching was once again the story of the early frames, putting the game on par with the other two of the three-game set. Lake County starter Shawn Morimando, in his fourth start, tossed five scoreless innings, only surrendering two hits. The five shutout frames lowered his ERA to 3.32. He was relieved by Grant Sides, who struck out three Lugnuts in two scoreless innings. With those unblemished innings, Sides extended his scoreless streak to 16.2 consecutive frames.
Equally as impressive was Lansing starter Jesse Hernandez. In seven innings, the undrafted free agent faced just two batters over the minimum. He gave up just two hits and walked one, but used two double plays to erase Captains’ base runners.
In the series, Lansing starters gave up just one run on 12 Lake County hits.
“It was a great effort by both pitching staffs all series long,” said Wallace. “That’s not [Single] A pitching you’re seeing out there. Our guys had good at-bats, they didn’t get down and didn’t give up.”
Lake County has what Wallace called a much needed day-off on Tuesday before heading to Western Michigan for a three-game set on Wednesday, which begins a seven game road trip. The Captains take to the road just 1.5 games out of second place in the Eastern Division, which would guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. The team does not return home until May 30.
The probable pitcher for Lake County is Felix Sterling (2-2, 2.85) for Wednesday’s 6:35 start. He will face off against Wilson Palacios (3-3, 4.37), who will toe the rubber for the Whitecaps.