Durham Bulls 6, Toledo Mud Hens 5 (box)
Despite claiming the lead twice and mounting a furious rally in the bottom of the ninth, the Mud Hens fell short Thursday night, dropping Game 2 of the Governor’s Cup semi-finals to even up the best-of-five series with Durham. The Bulls struck first in the top of the second inning against Hens starter Jacob Turner, who wasn’t particularly sharp, but limited damage throughout the night. Turner had runners on base in each of six innings, allowing three earned runs on nine hits. After Turner induced a four-six-three double-play to thwart a potential big inning in the second, Daz Cameron tripled in Willi Castro in the bottom half of the inning to tie things up. Harold Castro promptly doubled in Cameron to give the Hens their first led of the night.
That initial lead would be short-lived, however, as Turner gave up a lead-off single to Joe McCarthy in the third, followed by a wild pitch. After a groundout by Austin Meadowns moved McCarthy to third, Durham tied things up with a sacrifice fly from Brandon Snyder. Willi Castro got the Hens back on top in the fourth with a solo blast to right field. But Durham had an immediate answer in the top of the fifth when McCarthy ripped a one-out triple. He would score on a second sacrifice fly by Snyder, and the ballgame went into the seventh tied at three.
After Turner allowed a lead-off single in the top of the seventh, Hunter Cervenka came on in relief and retired the Bulls in order. Nathaniel Lowe doubled off Cervenka to start the eighth, and Zac Reininger was called upon. After a single put runners at the corners with nobody out, the Hens caught Lowe in a rundown and looked like they had a shot to get out of the inning. But Micah Johnson hit a one-out, two-run triple and came in to score on yet another sacrifice fly.
Things got interesting in the ninth, as Chad Huffman doubled off Durham closer Ian Gibaut, and Jason Krizan followed with a walk. Willi Castro doubled to right field to plate Huffman, and the Hens had the tying run in scoring position with nobody out. Daz Cameron worked a really impressive at-bat against Gibaut, spitting on several exceptional split-fingered fastballs, and ultimately drawing a walk. Gibaut, who had blown only one save in 15 tries all season, was lifted for lefty Hoby Milner, who came in to face Harold Castro. Castro hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 6-5 game, but the ball wasn’t deep enough to move Willi Castro over to third. With the game on the line, Dixon Machado was called upon to pinch-hit for the struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Machado lined a 2-2 pitch to the shortstop, who flipped over to second to double off Castro. Just like that, the ballgame was over and Durham had evened the series at one apiece.
Up next: The series shifts to Durham for the final three games (if necessary). Spencer Turnbull, who fanned 19 in his first two triple-A starts, toes the rubber on Friday night.
Turner: 6 IP, 3 ER, 9 H, 1 BB, 2 SO
Willi Castro: 3 for 4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI
Cameron: 1 for 3, 3B, R, RBI, BB
West Michigan Whitecaps 2, Great Lakes Loons 1 (box)
The Whitecaps did what they do best, and that’s put pressure on opposing defenses and somehow find ways to win close baseball games. Nineteen-year old Wilkel Hernandez was strong through five innings in his first playoff start, and the Whitecaps’ bullpen duo of Dylan Stock and Billy Lescher were stellar in five innings of relief, as the ‘Caps stole Game 2 from Great Lakes and advance to the Midwest League semi-finals.
Neither team threatened until the Loons’ half of the third, when a pair of singles put runners at the corners with two outs. Hernandez committed a balk to force in the only Great Lakes run of the game.
The Whitecaps put two on to start the sixth when Reece Hampton singled and Wenceel Perez legged out a bunt. Colby Bortles hit a lazy fly ball, Brady Policelli grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Jordan Pearce struck out to end the inning with runners stranded at second and third. West Michigan would threaten again in the seventh after Luke Sherley and Rey Rivera each drew one-out walks. But just like in the sixth, John Valente rolled into a fielder’s choice and Hampton struck out to leave a pair stranded.
Sherley worked the count full in the top of the ninth and drew a one-out walk. After Rivera whiffed on three pitches, the ‘Caps were down to their last strike when Valente found a hole on the left side to keep the inning alive. Hampton finally got the big hit with a runner in scoring position, delivering an RBI single to right to plate Sherley and tie the game. Hampton was thrown out at second to end the inning, but West Michigan had found a way to stay alive.
Lescher worked a one-two-three ninth inning and Colby Bortles laced a one-out single to left in the tenth. Policelli went down swinging on a high fastball out of the zone for the second out. Jordan Pearce then hit a bouncer just past the first baseman. The second baseman Deacon Liput ran the ball down just a few steps into the outfield grass. But then Liput fired the ball toward first and it got away from the pitcher, who was hustling over to cover. Bortles moved to third and Pearced advanced to second. Chris Proctor, who had a monster three-run double in Game 1, came on to pinch-hit and drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Sherley grounded one up the middle, Loons shortstop Jacob Amaya was able to track the ball down but his flip to second was late. Bortles crossed the plate and the ‘Caps had their first lead of the game, 2-1. Lescher gave up a two-out double in the tenth that was nearly snagged by Policelli at the wall, and then Sherley made a nifty play on a grounder to his glove side, spinning and firing to first to end the game.
Up next: The Whitecaps return home on Saturday to face the Bowling Green Hot Rods, who swept Lansing in two games. The semi-finals will also be a best-of-three format, with the opener in West Michigan and the subsequent games on the road in Bowling Green.
Hernandez: 5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 SO
Stock: 3 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 SO
Lescher: 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 2 SO
Hampton: 2 for 5, RBI, 3 SO
Sherley: 1 for 2, R, RBI, 3 BB