Castro Plays the Hero in Midwest League All-Star Game

The Midwest League held its All-Star Game on Tuesday, and like their fellow minor league mates from High-A Lynchburg, the Class-A Lake County Captains played big roles in the Eastern Division’s 11-10 victory over the Western Division.

The Captains had four members of their team on the Eastern Division squad, including starters in catcher Francisco Mejia and second baseman Tyler Krieger. Willi Castro was a bench option for the team and Tom Pannone was ready in the bullpen awaiting his turn on the diamond.

The Western Division jumped out to a big 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before the Eastern Division scored their first run in the second inning. It was a Captain who set the stage.

Mejia, Lake County’s 20-year-old switch-hitting catcher and the cleanup hitter in the lineup for the All-Star Game, started the inning with a single off of new pitcher Brennan Leitao. He reached second safely on a botched force attempt and moved to third on a walk by Jake Cronenworth. The fourth man to bat, Juan Kelly, reached on a missed catch attempt by Leitao, allowing Mejia to score the first run of the game for the road team.

The Western Division squad scored a run in response in the bottom of the second and three more in the third to take a commanding 8-1 lead, but the Eastern team fought right back in the fourth.

Two walks and two stolen bases off of pitcher Jose Rodriguez started the rally. A single knocked home a run before Rodriguez got a strikeout for the first out of the inning. Lake County’s Krieger reached on a throwing error by the Western third baseman, allowing a runner to score. Back-to-back singles scored three runs, including Krieger with the middle run of the bunch, and suddenly the exhibition was a ball game.

The score was still 8-6 when the 22-year-old southpaw Pannone entered in relief in the bottom of the fifth. After a fly out ot left, he gave up a single, but struck out Zach Nehrir for the second out and got a line out to first to end his only inning of the game.

The 22-year-old Krieger was lifted in the top of the sixth for a pinch-hitter, but the move did not work out well for the Eastern team, as David Gonzalez grounded into a double play to end the inning. Castro took over at short to start the bottom half of the inning and Mejia left from behind the plate. Castro made an error on his first attempt, but the runner would not advance beyond first.

The seventh inning revived the offenses, as the Eastern All-Stars scored a run on an RBI-groundout, but the Western All-Stars countered with a pair on a two-run homer from A.J. Murray to make it a 10-7 game.

Down to their final at bats, the Eastern team pulled off the big comeback. Against reliever Marcos Diplan, they got a pair of singles before a groundout for the first out moved both runners into scoring position. Darin Gillies entered in relief and gave up a three-run homer to Eloy Jimenez of South Bend, who called his shot and tied the game at 10-10.

“It was a big home run,” shared Castro after the game in a story on “He even said it before the inning. He said, ‘I’m going to hit it out.’…He told me, he said, ‘I’m going to hit it out. We’re going to win this game.’ And he did.”

After a two-out single from Andrew Guillotte (Lansing) to right, Castro stepped to the plate left-handed to play the hero. Gillies fired a wild pitch that allowed the runner to move to second, setting up the go-ahead run as Castro laced a single to right to score Guillotte and give the Eastern All-Stars their first lead of the game at 11-10. Despite a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth, the Western All-Stars could not match the score and the Eastern team pulled off the shocking come-from-behind 11-10 victory.

“Just trying to get a good pitch,” shared Castro after the game in the story on about his approach. “The first pitch he threw me was a bad pitch. Once I got a good pitch, just tried to hit it to the middle.”

Mejia was 1-for-3 with a single and the first run scored. Krieger was 0-for-2 with a strikeout, but did score a run.

The 19-year-old Castro was 1-for-2, including his game-winning single in the top of the ninth. He has been a better hitter against right-handers than left-handers this season, hitting .279 left-handed while batting .241 right-handed.

Pannone pitched a scoreless inning of relief, giving up a hit but striking out a batter.

The Eastern All-Stars have now won 12 of the last 16 contests against their Western foes.

Play resumed for the Captains and the rest of the teams of the Midwest League on Thursday night, as Lake County hosted the Great Lakes Loons at Classic Park in Eastlake to start off a four-game set.

Photo: Paul R. Gierhart/

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