By Steve Gunn and Andrew Johnson
COMSTOCK PARK – It’s not every day that a team outhits an opponent 12-2, yet needs extra innings to pull out the victory.
But for the West Michigan Whitecaps, it was just another way to win yet another game.
The Whitecaps continued their incredible season with a 3-2 win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 10 innings on Thursday at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The winning run came on a one-out RBI gapper by Danny Pinero, knocking home Austin Athmann in the bottom of the tenth.
It was the 60th win of the season for the Whitecaps, who only have 27 losses.
Even more impressive, the team is now 15-5 in the second half of the season, despite having six of its top players called up to the next level in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system following the June All-Star Game.
So how does a team keep winning at such a rate, after having its roster gutted at midseason?
“The guys that have come up (from the lower team in the Tiger system) have stepped right in,” said Whitecaps Manager Mike Rabelo. “The guys who were here that weren’t playing as much have stepped it up.
“We just continue to go about our business and play carefree. It’s the next man up. I’m trying to come up with a cool slogan, but it’s next man up, and these guys have done a great job.”
The Whitecaps earned their 10th victory in 12 extra-inning games in 2017, but it wasn’t easy.
They easily outhit the Kernels, but missed a lot of scoring chances throughout the contest.
They stranded two runners in the first inning, left the bases loaded in the fifth, left two on in the seventh, and stranded the potential winning run on second base in the ninth.
West Michigan managed to grab a 1-0 lead on an RBI walk by David Woodrow in the fifth inning.
Cedar Rapids, meanwhile, had no luck at all at the plate through the first five innings, managing no hits against Whitecaps starting pitcher Alfred Gutierrez.
But the Kernels broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff homer by Jorge Munoz in the top of the sixth, tying the game 1-1. They took a 2-1 lead on an RBI sacrifice fly by Lewin Diaz later in the same inning.
The Whitecaps tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when Zac Shepherd singled to center, scoring Athmann from second base.
The bottom of the tenth proved decisive for the Whitecaps when Athmann reached on an error by Munoz at shortstop, then scored when Pinero drilled a gapper to the wall in left-center.
The Kernels got the ball back to the infield quickly and the final play was close at the plate, but Athmann slid wide, apparently avoiding the tag and scoring the winning run.
“I was just trying to hit something hard,” said Pinero, who collected his second game-winning hit of the season. “Athmann did a good job getting on. I just wanted to continue the inning. The guy left a fastball up and I saw it well. I was lucky to get a good piece on it.
“It’s crazy. We lost a lot of guys and we keep getting new guys and somehow we keep finding a way to win. We don’t make many mistakes on the field, whether fielding or base running, and I think it plays a huge factor into it. Our pitching has been incredible all season, so I give a lot of credit to them.”
Pinero, Cole Bauml, Chad Sedio and David Gonzalez each had a pair of hits for the Whitecaps. Relief pitcher John Schreiber got the win, allowing no runs on one hit and four strikeouts in the final two innings.
The Whitecaps will try to complete a three-game series sweep of the Kernels in a 7:05 p.m. game on Friday.