FORT WAYNE, IN – Controversy reigned on Wednesday night at Parkview Field, where the West Michigan Whitecaps lost their playoff opener, 7-5, to the Fort Wayne TinCaps in Game 1 of their best-of-three quarterfinal round series.
West Michigan (0-1, 82-58) and Fort Wayne (1-0, 63-76) were locked in a 5-5 tie when the questionable call put the TinCaps in front in the bottom of the eighth.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, the Whitecaps’ infield was playing halfway when Josh VanMeter shot a 1-2 pitch to the left side of the infield. As shortstop Domingo Leyba lunged to his left, he collided with baserunner Ryan Miller and the ball skipped into left-center field. Two runs scored on the play, giving Fort Wayne a 7-5 advantage and putting them just three outs away from a victory.
Rule 7.09(j) in the 2014 edition of the Official Baseball Rules states: “It is interference by a batter or runner when he fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball.”
Manager Andrew Graham immediately questioned the call, but to no avail – base umpire Dave Attridge would not budge. Instead of having the bases loaded with one out in a still-tied ballgame, West Michigan was suddenly down by two runs with their backs to the wall.
With runners at first and second and nobody out, reliever Julio Felix came in and worked out of the jam to avoid further damage. But the ‘Caps went down quietly in the ninth, getting a leadoff single from Raph Rhymes before the next three batters went down in order.
In a game the Whitecaps led 5-2 at one point, the Fort Wayne bullpen worked 4.2 shutdown innings while their offense rallied. Nick Mutz took over in the fifth and threw 1.2 perfect frames, Jason Jester (1-0) earned the win with two shutout innings, and Ryan Butler (1) worked the ninth for the save.
The ‘Caps were behind 2-1 before slugging a pair of home runs in the top of the fifth. Domingo Leyba turned on a 1-1 pitch and blasted a game-tying solo shot to right field. Later in the inning, with runners at first and second, Midwest League MVP Wynton Bernard belted a three-run homer – part of a 2-for-4 night that included a stolen base and two runs scored – to stake West Michigan to a 5-2 advantage.
But Fort Wayne, boasting the league’s top-rated offense, battled back. A key error and a two-out RBI-single by Fernando Perez trimmed the deficit to 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth. One inning later, Nick Schulz touched Whitecaps’ starter Austin Kubitza for a game-tying single that evened the score at 5-5.
Detroit Tigers’ reliever Luke Putkonen (0-1) – making his third and final rehab appearance with West Michigan – threw a scoreless seventh inning but ran into trouble in the eighth and ultimately took the loss.
Dustin Peterson capped a 3-for-3, two-RBI night with a leadoff single in the eighth. Miller and Schulz then reached on back-to-back bunts, the first of which was picked up near the first base line and ruled fair on another disputed call. The second was bunted back to the mound, but Putkonen bobbled and dropped the baseball as he tried to get off a throw to third. That loaded the bases with nobody out, setting the stage for VanMeter’s controversial game-winning hit.
The Whitecaps continue their first-round playoff series against the Fort Wayne TinCaps with Game 2 at Fifth Third Ballpark on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. LHP Kevin Ziomek (10-6, 2.27) is scheduled to pitch for West Michigan against RHP Cody Hebner (2-5, 4.64) of Fort Wayne. The ballgame will feature a rally towel giveaway for the first 1,000 fans, post-game Family Fare fireworks, and $2 food and beverage specials on an Altogas Thrifty Thursday. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps’ front office at 616-784-4131 or their website.
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