Dayton Dragons 4, West Michigan Whitecaps 3 (F/11) (box)
The story of this game can be told in one sentence. The Whitecaps were 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position on the night.
However, much more went into it in a wild contest in West Michigan. Unfortunately, a late rally that took the game to extra innings was the high water mark for the Whitecaps, and after an incredible 91 win season, they fell to the Dayton Dragons 4-3, and were eliminated from the Midwest League playoffs.
The bright spot here substantially outshines any disappointment. In the first elimination game of his pro career, Matt Manning was nasty. A pair of singles, with a stolen base in between, quickly put the Dragons up 1-0. They would get nowhere against Manning the rest of the way. He struck out the side to clean up the first inning, and then settled in to carve up the Dragons for four more innings. He allowed just two hits and two walks the rest of the way, striking out 10 overall on the night.
Manning wasn’t in trouble until the fifth. With men at second and third and two outs, Manning’s 84th and final pitch of the night was a good curveball down and in that Taylor Trammell swung over to end the inning.
The Whitecaps evened things quickly in the bottom of the first. Danny Woodrow rode home on an Isaac Paredes sacrifice fly and the game was knotted at 1-1. It stayed that way until the sixth. Trent Szkutnik struggled a bit in his inning and a third, allowing a run to make it 2-1 Dragons. John Schreiber came on and struck out four in 2 2⁄3 innings of work, but when he allowed a run in the top of the ninth, the Dragons looked to have the game in the bag.
However, the Whitecaps weren’t done just yet.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and their season on the line, Daz Cameron kick-started a rally with a single. Cole Bauml followed with a single of his own, and both runners advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch with Danny Pinero at the plate. Pinero then walked to load the bases. Isaac Paredes came to the dish with a chance for some heroics. It didn’t go exactly as planned.
The error, charged to the shortstop for some reason, made it 3-3 and sent the game to extra innings. Spenser Watkins got through the tenth, and the Whitecaps produced a scoring opportunity in the bottom half of the frame. Anthony Pereira drew a leadoff walk, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from catcher Drew Longley. Dylan Burdeaux struck out, and the Dragons intentionally walked Danny Woodrow to put force plays in place at all three bags. Daz Cameron drilled a shot into right field that looked for a moment like the game winner, but Dragons’ right fielder, Michael Beltre, made a nice play to rob the Caps and survive to the 11th.
Beltre was involved again in the top of the 11th. After Watkins surrendered a leadoff double to Cassidy Brown, the Dragons sacrificed him to third. With one out, and behind in the count, Whitecaps’ manager Mike Rabelo elected against walking Beltre to set up the double play, and it bit him. A passed ball on catcher Drew Longley allowed Brown to scamper home and the Dragons were up 4-3. Watkins escaped the inning without further issue, but the Whitecaps were in need of another dose of magic.
It wasn’t to be.
Three quick outs later, and the Whitecaps were eliminated from the postseason. It was a pretty incredible ride for the team this year as they dominated both halves of the split Midwest League season. By the end, with many of their best performers earning promotions to Advanced-A Lakeland, the team bore little resemblance to the ones that pummeled the opposition all summer long.
Still, there was a lot to like out of West Michigan this season as players like Gregory Soto, Austin Sodders, Cam Gibson, Derek Hill and others made nice strides. Perhaps the final takeaway is the best one. Matt Manning really put it together after careful handling from the Tigers’ organization, and looks primed to make big moves in 2018.
Woodrow: 2-4, R, 2 BB, SO
Cameron: 2-4, R, BB
Manning: 5.0 IP, ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 10 K