Captains clinch playoff spot with 9-3 win
EASTLAKE – The Lake County Captains clinched a spot in the Midwest League playoffs as they swept the Bowling Green Hot Rods with a 9-3 victory on Friday night.
The Captains entered Friday’s game with a lucky number of two. A win paired with a loss by the West Michigan Whitecaps would secure the Captains a playoff spot.
Danny Jimenez (2-4, 5.36) took the bump for the Captains to counter Bowling Green’s Parker Markel (11-5, 3.59), who has been one of the Hot Rods’ strongest starters.
Bowling Green drew first blood as they led off with a pair of back-to-back hits before a groundout double play scored one.
The Captains came back to level the score in the fourth inning as designated hitter Jake Lowery laced a two-out double down the right field line and scored on another double by third baseman Leonardo Castillo.
The Hot Rods’ rebuttal came right away as they tacked on another in the fifth inning, but the Captains’ resiliency remained as they fought right back. Second baseman Jose Ramirez and shortstop Francisco Lindor started things off with back-to-back singles. With one out, Ramirez scored on a wild pitch to even the score at 2-2 before Markel was pulled and replaced with Stayton Thomas, who finalized the second and third outs.
The pushing and shoving for the lead continued through the sixth as Cody Penny entered the game to pitch for the Captains, ending Jimenez’s evening at 5 2/3 innings pitched, permitting three runs on seven hits, three walks and four strikeouts.
The Hot Rods greeted Penny with a pair of two-straight hits to tack on one more run, but Penny settled in to record the final out and douse the damage.
Lowery kept his bat hot in the Captains’ half of the sixth with a one-out triple into the right field corner. Cue Castillo, who picked up another RBI in the form of a sacrifice fly to score Lowery and once again regain the tie score.
The seventh inning was the tipping point of the game as Ramirez led off with a single up the middle and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Lindor, who also reached base as Hot Rods’ third baseman Benjamin Kline made a throwing error that pushed Lindor to second. Right fielder Jordan Smith flew out to center to score Ramirez and with two outs, Myles doubled to right to plate Lindor and advance the Captains to the 5-3 lead.
Penny remained in the game through the eighth inning where he struck out two to preserve the Lake County lead into the ninth.
The Captains kicked the coffin door shut on the Hot Rods in their portion of the eighth in a big inning as they added four more runs to their tally. Austin Hubbard entered the game to pitch for the Hot Rods, and Lowery greeted him with his third hit of the evening in the form of a ground-rule double. Castillo laced his second hit of the night as he dumped a single into right that scored Lowery before centerfielder Zach MacPhee and Ramirez reached on back-to-back walks. With two outs, first baseman Jerrud Sabourin stepped up and tapped the nail into the coffin door with a bases-emptying single to give the Captains the 9-3 lead, just as the scoreboard revealed that the Whitecaps lost their game against the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
The table was set for Captains’ closer Enosil Tejeda, who kept things quick for the 7,416 fans anxiously awaiting the on-field celebration as he retired the side to secure the Captains’ 9-3 win and clinch a spot in the Midwest League playoffs.
The Captains converged on the field in a triumphant huddle as they sported their 2012 Midwest League Playoffs t-shirts and saluted the crowd in gratitude for a supportive season before shifting the celebration to the locker room.
Captains’ manager Dave Wallace gave the credit to his squad, who doused the locker room in celebratory champagne. Wallace was also thrilled to get a taste of the bubbly.
“It feels great,” Wallace said. “I’m proud of these guys, this staff, but the credit really goes to all the players. All we do is talk and throw in some balls to hit, hit some balls for them to field and they go out and make it happen.”
Wallace accredited the team’s second-half success to its hard work and focus at the plate. “I think it’s just a matter of some of the pitches were not swinging at. We’re getting ourselves in better counts and then getting the pitches to hit. We’re putting the barrel on it, and the way we’re running the bases, we put pressure on the defense.”
The Captains will hit the road on Saturday morning as they head to Lansing for a three-game series. Wallace likes the momentum his team has and plans to utilize it to finish the regular season.
“I don’t want us to come back to the ground,” he said. “I want us to stay in the clouds.”
Francisco Lindor, the Cleveland Indians’ 2011 first-round draft pick, has experienced success in the past, but none as exciting as this. “I went to state [tournament], but we sure didn’t celebrate like this,” said Lindor.
The Captains have now posted a 38-29 record in the second half of the season, which has been a huge turnaround since the first half.
“The second half couldn’t have been more different from the first,” said starter Cody Anderson. “You have to fail to succeed.”
First baseman Jerrud Sabourin, who has been one of the anchors in the Captains’ line-up, noted that though the team was shooting the champagne, the road hasn’t ended yet. “It’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs, but I’d say mostly ups,” Sabourin said. “It’s been a great season so far, and we’re not finished yet. We’re looking to win this thing, and we can’t stop now.”
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.