Lake County Advances MWL Championship Series; Captains 5, TinCaps 4
Mike B. | On 08, Sep 2014
Nellie Rodriguez said it best. If you had told the Captains in April or May that they would be playing for the Midwest League Championship, he would have said, as would many others, “You’re joking.”
Yet, here they are. Despite playing for a crowd of only 807, the Captains brought energy to Classic Park Sunday night and swept the Fort Wayne TinCaps to advance to the Midwest League Championship series with a final score of 5-4.
The Captains started Dace Kime, who was 7-14 on the regular season with an overall 5.22 ERA. He was matched with Fort Wayne’s Ronald Herrera, who is 3-5 for the TinCaps this season with a 4.26 ERA. Herrera started the season with the Beloit Snappers, where he was 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts.
Kime retired the TinCaps in order to start the game, a feat which was quickly repeated by Herrera. The first hit of the game came in the top of the second when John Nester of the TinCaps hit a single to left center field with two outs, thought Kime retired the following batter to end the inning. The Captains first runner on base was Dorssys Paulino in the bottom of the second after he was hit by a pitch with two outs in the inning. Paulino advanced to second on a wild pitch, thought batter Richard Stock struck out to strand Paulino at second and keep the game at 0-0 headed into the third.
Fernando Perez hit a one-out double and scored the first run of the game in the top of the fourth following a single from Dustin Peterson. A freshly-turned 20 year-old Clint Frazier’s leadoff single in the top of the fourth was the Captains first hit of the game and was followed by a single from Bradley Zimmer that put runners at the corners with no outs. Rodriguez then delivered one of his signature home runs, a three-run blast on a fastball over the left field bleachers that gave the Captains a 3-1 lead.
“That was the most amazing home run I’ve hit all year,” Rodriguez said, also saying that he knew when the ball left the bat it was going to go far.
Kime’s night ended in the top of the sixth after an error by second baseman Paul Hendrix put a runner on first with one out. Kime gave up four total hits to the TinCaps, holding them to only one run. Reliever Justin Brantley struck out Peterson and a pickoff at second by catcher Richard Stock aided in ending the inning with the Captains still up 3-1. Zimmer, who started the bottom of the sixth with a single and advanced to third on two wild pitches, scored on a sacrifice fly from Paulino to make it 4-1 Captains headed into the seventh inning. With two outs and two runners on in the seventh, Carlos Melo relieved Brantley to end the inning and continue to hold the TinCaps to their initial four hits.
The Captains loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh with two, though Zimmer grounded out to first to end the inning. The TinCaps tied the game in the top of the eighth after an RBI-double followed by a throwing error from Melo to first baseman Rodriguez enabled the TinCaps to score three runs.
In the bottom of the eighth, the TinCaps delivered a response error as the shortstop Trea Turner threw a bobbled ball to the first baseman Jake Bauers, allowing Rodriguez to score the go-ahead run and give the Captains a 5-4 lead headed into the top of the ninth.
“I was hustling all the way, because there were two outs,” Rodriguez said of scoring the winning run. “It felt great, since it was bottom of the eighth and the game was tied.”
Trevor Frank closed the game for the Captains and secured the win, giving the Captains their second sweep in the series.
“I’m excited for them,” Manager Mark Budzinski said. “After the start in April, there were a lot of doubters and it was really good to see them come together and go after it. They did what they were supposed to do, which is get better every month and they did well down the stretch. I’m excited for the guys.”
“[Kime] gave us five strong innings, and that’s exactly what we needed from him,” Budzinski said, also extolling the middle of the lineup that delivered the three runs that gave the Captains their initial lead. “You don’t win without those runs,” Budzinski said, adding that Rodriguez has been invaluable for the Captains and has been their “MVP all year.”
The Captains will continue their quest for the title of Midwest League Champions on Wednesday in Geneva, Illinois, against the Kane County Cougars. Kane County lead the Western Division of the Midwest League both halves, and won 91 regular season games.
Budzinski said there will need to be some preparation. The Captains played the Cougars back in April and went 0-3 during their rough start in April.
“We’ll have to go back, look at some charts,” Budzinski said. “They’ve lead their division all year, put up the best record in the league, so we’ll definitely have our hands full, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Players echoed that sentiment. Rodriguez said it’s going to be a “war, but we’re going to leave everything on the field.”
The Captains will return to Classic Park on Saturday to finish the best-of-five game series.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer