Cook, Captains falter in ninth, lose 7-6
EASTLAKE- The West Michigan Whitecaps (25-29) used a four-run ninth inning to steal a victory from Lake County (25-28) on Thursday afternoon at Classic Park. It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Captains, who fall to 0-6 against West Michigan at home this season.
Leading up to the final frame, everything seemed to be going right for Lake County. The Captains had an answer for every time the Whitecaps scored, taking a 6-3 lead into the top of the ninth. Manager Dave Wallace decided to stick with Cole Cook, who had come on in the eighth inning and retired the side 1-2-3, rather than turning to closer Jeff Johnson.
Cook opened the ninth by issuing a free pass to shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who finished the day 3-for-4. Designated hitter Dean Green’s single with one-out - his third hit of the afternoon - put runners on first and third for catcher Curt Casali. After a wild pitch advanced pinch-runner Brandon Loy to second, Casali smashed a double into the left field corner, plating two and bringing West Michigan to within one run. That was all for Cook, who was replaced by closer Jeff Johnson (3-2, 5.91).
On the season, Johnson has been spectacular for Lake County, tallying nine saves and striking out over 14 batters per nine innings. On Thursday, however, he was unable to convert. First baseman Aaron Westlake greeted Johnson to the mound by driving his first pitch down the right field line for an RBI triple. It was the first triple of the year for Westlake and brought his RBI tally to 26 on the year.
“I left a fastball up on the first pitch,” Johnson said. “[It’s one of those games where] you wish you could go back and give it another shot. If given the chance, I would have located my pitches a little better.”
With the game tied 6-6 and Westlake just 90 feet away, third baseman Jason King, hitting just .192, stepped to the dish. He, too, saw a fastball from Johnson and laced it into the left-center field gap to put West Michigan on top 7-6.
“We will focus on the leadoff walk,” Wallace said, when asked about the ninth inning. “You have to make them earn it. We want our guys to be aggressive and pitch to their strengths and they both did that.”
The former Cal Poly closer suffered his second loss of the season, but remained positive after the game.
“I love this game and it’s a lot of fun coming in [for] big situations,” the 22 year-old right-hander said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You have to put it behind you and focus on the next outing because it’s a long season.”
“I love the closing role,” Johnson responded, when asked if he will be confident taking the mound in his next save situation. “It’s what I live for and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s my favorite part of the game.”
Although Lake County dropped its fifth consecutive game, the loss was not without positives, especially after being held scoreless on Wednesday.
“We had good at-bats,” Wallace noted. “We played hard and [our hitters] put us in a position to win.”
Right fielder Jordan Smith and first baseman Jerrud Sabourin served as the catalysts for the Lake County offense. Smith went 3-5 with a double and three runs scored, extending his hitting streak to six games. Over his last ten contests, Smith has gone 14-37 (.378) and has raised his average from .244 to .275 over that span.
After having his seven-game hit streak snapped on Wednesday, Sabourin was back at it on Thursday, pushing his average to .288. The former Indiana Hoosier could be the hottest player on the Captains’ roster in the past ten games. He has gone 16-33 (.485) with four doubles and seven RBI.
Designated hitter Alex Monsalve also notched two hits for the Captains, who were outhit on the afternoon 14-13.
West Michigan opened the scoring in the top of the second after loading the bases with nobody out against Lake County starter Cody Anderson on two singles and a walk. However, Anderson got eighth place hitter Colin Kaline, the Whitecap second baseman, to ground into a run-scoring double play. He escaped the jam after giving up just one run on a fly out to center field.
Lake County responded with its first tally of the homestand in the bottom of the frame. Jerrud Sabourin roped an opposite field single to left and designated hitter Alex Monsalve lined a single through the hole on the right side. After a walk to third baseman Leonardo Castillo loaded the bases, the Captains got on the board against West Michigan hurler Kyle Ryan. Second baseman Robel Garcia chopped a double just inside the bag at third, scoring both Sabourin and Monsalve. Nick Bartolone, batting ninth and playing shortstop to give Francisco Lindor a day off, scored Castillo on an RBI groundout. At the end of the inning, the Captains led 3-1.
Anderson could not hold the Whitecaps scoreless after he was handed the lead in the bottom of the second. With one out, designated hitter Dean Green continued his recent tear, driving a double to the wall in left-center to plate shortstop Eugenio Suarez and bring West Michigan within one run. It was Green’s ninth double and 18th RBI in his last 22 games.
The back-and-forth action continued in the bottom of the third inning. Jordan Smith led off with a single for Lake County and advanced to third when Ryan’s pick-off attempt went into right field. With the infield drawn in, Jerrud Sabourin blooped a single up the middle that barely left the infield for his 18th RBI of the year and put the Captains on top 4-2.
The combination of Smith and Sabourin struck again for a single tally in the fifth. Smith smacked a double into the right fielder corner, his sixth of the season. Sabourin once again blooped a single over the drawn-in infield to plate Smith and push the Lake County lead to 5-2.
After the Whitecaps tacked on a run in the top-half of the seventh inning, the Captains once again responded. Jordan Smith ripped his third consecutive base-hit, a single to right, and advanced to second on Alex Lavisky’s first hit of the afternoon. With two outs, Alex Monsalve delivered, driving a single up the middle, scoring Smith and extending the Lake County advantage to 6-3, which would hold until the top of the ninth when West Michigan struck for four runs to win the game 7-6.
Lake County will try to avoid the sweep on Friday night when it sends right-hander Shawn Morimando (1-1, 4.50) to the mound. He will face Brennan Smith (1-3, 3.91), who will toe the rubber for West Michigan. Be sure to stick around after Friday night’s contest for post-game fireworks.