Pair of Captains Log Time in Midwest League All-Star Classic

The 54th annual Midwest League All-Star Classic took place on Tuesday night from Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, Michigan, where the best of the Western Division faced off with the beasts of the Eastern Division, including a pair of representatives from the Indians’ Class-A affiliate, the Lake County Captains.

Outfielder Will Benson and pitcher Kyle Nelson got an opportunity to partake in the exhibition contest, while a third Captains representative, pitcher Tommy DeJuneas, missed the game due to injury.

A total of 9,396 fans packed into the home of the Lugnuts to watch top young prospects from around the Midwest League take part in the annual contest. It marked the fourth time that Lansing served as the home of the MWL All-Star Game and the first time since 2002, when current Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion led the Eastern Division to a win over Joe Mauer’s Western Division squad in front of the largest All-Star Classic crowd to league history (10,334 fans).

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Benson was one of six players selected to participate in the Home Run Derby. A strong first round by the Indians’ number eight prospect, which included 13 home runs, helped him edge out the dozen each hit by Dayton’s Hendrik Clementina and Cedar Rapids’ Alex Kirilloff for a spot in the finals against Tampa Bay catching prospect and Bowling Green Hot Rod Ronaldo Hernandez.

Hernandez, who hit 14 in round one to advance, would outlast Benson for the home run crown, hitting 13 to Benson’s 10 in the finals to claim the victory.

“The key was to get on a roll, 100 percent,” shared Benson with “He caught a really good roll at the end. As long as I was hitting the ball hard and having a good time, that was the important thing.”

As for the real reason that baseball fans gathered in Lansing on Tuesday, Benson was in the starting lineup in right field for the Midwest Eastern All-Stars, hitting fifth. He stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first with the East already up 1-0, but he had his at bat delayed as Bowling Green’s Taylor Walls, who drove in the first run with an RBI-single, was caught stealing.

Benson returned to the plate in the bottom of the second and faced a different pitcher, Burlington’s Luis Madero, who would strike him out on a 3-2 pitch.

He was back in the box in the bottom of the fourth, stepping in with two outs against Cedar Rapids’ Jared Finkel. He fouled off the first pitch and drew a pair of balls before grounding up the middle for a base hit. He would move to second on another base hit, but would be stranded on a fly out, leaving the score 1-0. The East added another run in the bottom of the fifth when Great Lakes’ Jared Walker homered to right. Benson would be lifted prior to the top of the sixth for Dayton’s Stuart Fairchild.

The West scored their first run of the game in the top of the sixth on an RBI-double. Captains left-hander Nelson took the mound to start the seventh and struck out Quad Cities’ Bryan De La Cruz on three straight pitches for the first out, then got pinch-hitter Clinton’s Ryan Costello to line to center on one pitch. It would be just a four-pitch All-Star appearance for the 21-year-old, however, as he would turn the game over to Fort Wayne’s Travis Radke, who retired the final out.

In the top of the eighth, the West tied the game with a two-out rally. A single, a wild pitch, and another single brought in the tying run. The East squad would be retired in order in the home half of the eighth and East pitching would strike out the side swinging in the top of the ninth. Their bats, however, could not come through in the bottom of the frame, as they struck out twice to send the game to extra innings.

Even with minor league extra inning rules in effect, both clubs were notified that the tenth would be the final inning to be played. The West started with a runner at second base, but a strikeout, a pop out, and a comebacker to the mound left him stranded in scoring position. The East, however, was able to capitalize on the rule, as Dayton’s Montrell Marshall singled with two outs to drive in Fairchild (his teammate with the Dragons) with the winning run in walk-off fashion in a 3-2 victory.

For delivering the winning hit and preventing an All-Star Classic tie, Marshall was named BUSH’S® All-Star MVP.

A total of 28 different pitchers worked in the ten full innings, combining to allow just five runs on 15 hits with no walks and 20 strikeouts.

Benson went 1-for-2 with a single and a strikeout in two trips. Nelson earned a hold and struck out a batter in a four-pitch, two-thirds of an inning appearance.

The All-Star break will come to a close quickly, as Midwest League play will resume on Thursday, June 21, as all 16 teams kick off their second half schedules. The Captains, who wrapped up the first half in seventh place in the Eastern Division with a 29-41 record, will open the second half at Bowling Green.

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