COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. – It went down to the end again – but this time the TinCaps were the ones who made the key mistake.
Reliever Colby Blueberg left an 0-2 pitch over the plate, and West Michigan’s Bennett Pickar connected for a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning Thursday night at Fifth Third Ballpark.
The Whitecaps’ 2-1 win forced a winner-take-all Game 3 tonight in the Eastern Division first-round series.
To add injury to insult, the TinCaps may have endured a much bigger loss as Fernando Perez was replaced in the second with an injury to his left hand or wrist area.
The star infielder was scheduled to undergo an X-ray this morning and did not immediately know the severity of the injury, caused when he was hit by a pitch in the first.
Kind of got him on a funny spot, TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. That discomfort – trying to grip a ball or swing a bat – he wasn’t going to be at his best.
Perez wore a sizeable wrap on the arm, and Collins said his status was up in the air for today’s do-or-die tilt.
We’re going to be smart, he said. If he feels up to it, hey, he’s the guy that got us here and will be back out there. That being said, we’re going to be smart.
Perez instantly fell to the ground, writhing in pain as he hit the dirt. Collins and team trainer Ricky Huerta tended to the man who set a single-season franchise record with 95 runs driven in.
It’s definitely sad that he went down like that, said Nick Schulz, whose third-inning home run was the extent of Fort Wayne’s attack.
Perez stayed in the game to run the bases, but Rey Bruguera trotted out to third base for defense after Perez looked uncomfortable trying some warmup throws.
The TinCaps’ lineup, which had 13 hits in a 7-5 win in Game 1, looked feeble, striking out 15 times against ace lefty Kevin Ziomek and two hard-throwing relievers.
Wednesday’s hero, Josh VanMeter, combined with Trea Turner, Dustin Peterson, Franmil Reyes and Jake Bauers to go 1 for 19, the lone hit a single by Peterson leading off the ninth.
That’s playoff baseball, Collins said. A great pitching staff like they have, it’s going to be difficult.
Schulz grounded into a double play to end it against Montreal Robertson, who got five outs for the save.
The 5,210 in attendance waved white rally towels, relieved that an 82-58 season would not end with a sweep.
It’s a big win considering the guys were a little bummed (Wednesday), Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham said.
Cody Hebner did his part to keep the TinCaps in the game, giving up one run on one hit (a fourth-inning RBI double by Raph Rhymes) over five innings before departing with eight strikeouts.
Outstanding, Collins said. Got us to a point where the bullpen could take over.
Blueberg was fine in the sixth but got in a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh with the light-hitting Pickar at the plate and hung a slider that was hit well.
It came out of my hand wrong, Blueberg said. I had a funky grip and should have stepped off. It (stinks).
Kyle Lloyd will try to win the series today, taking the mound on his regular turn. The Whitecaps counter with Jonathon Crawford.
We’re all positive right now, Schulz said. Nothing’s hurt us.