By Andrew Johnson
COMSTOCK PARK – After losing 2-1 in Game 2 of the Midwest League Eastern Division semifinals on Thursday, the West Michigan Whitecaps will have their bags packed when they arrive at the ballpark on Friday night.
If they win the decisive Game 3, they will be headed to Fort Wayne for the first game of the Midwest League Eastern Division finals. If they lose, they will be headed home for the year.
“Pack your suitcases,“ said Whitecaps manager Mike Rabelo, when he was asked about his message to the team after Thursday’s tough loss. “We’ve had our backs up against the wall plenty this year. We’ve played fairly well in one-run games, and I assume tomorrow will be a one-run game, as well, if history has shown us anything.”
The Whitecaps entered Thursday night with a chance to sweep Dayton in the best-of-three series, but the Dragons came ready to play when the game finally started after a 41-minute rain delay.
Randy Ventura walked to start the game for Dayton, then Jose Siri singled to center, moving Ventura to third base. Ventura came home when Taylor Trammell singled, giving the Dragons a quick 1-0 lead.
Whitecap starter Alfred Gutierrez calmed down after that, striking out the next three batters to finish the first inning.
Gutierrez finished the night with nine strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings while allowing one run on seven hits.
The Whitecaps pitching staff combined to strike out 19 Dayton batters. But the West Michigan offense struggled to get anything going to help the pitching staff.
The Caps managed just six hits on the night. Isaac Paredes led the way with two.
The game remained 1-0 until the eighth inning, when the Dragons added an insurance run. Ventura ripped a single to right-center that scored Cassidy Brown. Dayton threatened to score again, but a Daz Cameron-Anthony Pereira relay throw caught Carlos Rivero at the plate for the third out of the eighth inning.
West Michigan attempted a comeback in the ninth when Paredes doubled to left field and Chad Sedio followed with a walk. Each runner moved up when Dayton pitcher Jesse Adams committed a throwing error on a pickoff throw to first base.
Anthony Pereira grounded out to the shortstop, which scored Paredes to make the score 2-1. Austin Athmann then flew out to center field to close out the game and strand Sedio at second base.
West Michigan will now face a winner-take-all game on Friday at Fifth Third Ballpark at 7 p.m. Matt Manning, the Detroit Tigers’ 2016 first round draft pick, will take the mound for the Whitecaps.
“He’s pitching for us, and he’s thrown the ball well in his last couple of outings,” Rabelo said. “We’re excited. It’ll be a fun one for sure.
“He’s been ahead in the count and has a good fastball that we all know about. That curveball is pretty sharp, and when’s ahead in the count he can throw that curveball and good things tend to happen.”