By Andrew Johnson
COMSTOCK PARK – The West Michigan Whitecaps’ six-game home stand got off to a bumpy start, to say the least.
With two outs in the top of the ninth of Monday’s game against Beloit, Whitecaps right fielder Jose Azocar lost a fly ball in the lights that should have been a routine third out. The ball dropped, two runners scored, and Beloit captured a 4-2 victory at First Third Stadium.
That followed a long Sunday night, when the Whitecaps’ bus was reportedly involved in a minor accident on the way home from a road trip.
There were no reported injuries to anyone involved. The time and location of the mishap was not available, but the experience made for a very late night.
The Caps didn’t return home until about 2 a.m. Monday. That means they didn’t get much of a workout before Monday’s opener of the three-game series with Beloit.
Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham cancelled the team’s regular full batting practice session before Monday’s game
“We hit in the cages today before the game,” Graham said. “It’s a long season. We have 140 games and you can’t be on the field every day. We didn’t get in till 1:30 or 2 a.m. I wanted the guys to get in a little bit of rest, but we’ll be out here early tomorrow working hard.”
The Whitecaps fell behind 1-0 in the first inning on Monday when Beloit’s Skye Bolt hit a home run over the left-center field fence.
Beloit extended its lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning.
West Michigan managed only two hits off Beloit starting pitcher Evan Manarino through five innings. But Beloit brought in reliever Xavier Altamirano in the sixth, and the Whitecaps got on the board.
Rashad Brown’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly scored Cam Gibson to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The Whitecaps tied the game in the eighth inning when Gibson scored on an RBI single from Brett Pirtle.
But Beloit ruined the comeback by squeezing out two runs in the ninth.
The inning started when Beloit first baseman Chris Iriart hit a ball to the left center wall for a leadoff double. Brett Siddall walked on four straight pitches to put runners on first and second with no outs.
Whitecaps pitcher Josh Laxer retired the next two Beloit batters, before Trace Loehr hit the high fly ball to right that got lost in the glare and dropped in, allowing Iriart and Siddall to score.
The Whitecaps were unable to respond in the bottom of the ninth, going down in order.
“It’s a tough way to lose after getting two outs with runners on first and second, but unfortunately our right fielder lost the ball in the twilight,” Graham said.
The Whitecaps finished with seven hits, but were only 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position, which was more disappointing to Graham than anything else.
“We didn’t get much going with the bats – we need to execute when we have runners in scoring position – but we found a way to tie it up,” the manager said. “It’s a tough way to lose a game, but that’s not the thing that upset me the most. We failed to score with runners in scoring position and failed to do the little things.”
Gibson went 2-for-3 and scored two runs for the Whitecaps. Kyle Dowdy pitched two strong innings out the bullpen with three strikeouts.
Altamirano picked up the win for Beloit while Kevin Johnson earned the save.
Laxer took the loss for West Michigan while starter Eudis Idrogo had a no-decision, pitching five innings while allowing two runs and striking out five.
The two teams will continue their three-game series Tuesday with a 6:35 p.m. start at Fifth Third Ballpark.