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The Journal Gazette

Monday, September 03, 2018 8:20 pm

TinCaps come within three outs of playoffs, but fall short

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

COMSTOCK PARK, Michigan – After 68 second-half games and nine innings of the 69th, the TinCaps and West Michigan Whitecaps still had not settled which team would earn the final Midwest League playoff spot. The TinCaps plated a run in the top of the 10th to draw within three outs of claiming the spot, but the Whitecaps simply wouldn't go away and rallied for two runs in the bottom half to win 3-2.

West Michigan entered the game 1-63 (not a typo) this season when trailing entering their final at-bat, but seemed completely un-phased by that lack of a comeback track record.

In retrospect, the most important play of the game came in the penultimate at-bat. With the bases loaded, nobody out and the TinCaps still leading 2-1, Colby Bortles rapped a sharp line drive back through the middle. Looking at the replay, it really appears as though pitcher Evan Miller and then second baseman Kelvin Melean each have the ball in their gloves, but it eventually bounces off both of them and into center field for a game-tying single. If either one catches the ball, it was hit hard enough that it probably turns into a double play. That's how slim the margin was between these teams, who played two straight one-run games to decide the season. Unfortunately for the TinCaps, neither went their way and they miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

"The guys played well," manager Anthony Contreras said. "Obviously offensively we didn't too much, but neither did (West Michigan). It always come down in games like this to who's going to make the last mistake. 

"These guys did a great job of having opportunities to win a baseball game at the end. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. ... They fought hard, the season was a success in my eyes."

The TinCaps scored in the top of the first with some help from a West Michigan error and led 1-0 into the seventh behind a tremendous start from Tom Cosgrove. The left-hander pitched seven innings for just the second time this season and struck out seven while only walking one. He surrendered the tying run in the seventh, but the Whitecaps scored it without hitting the ball hard. Simply put, Cosgrove had his best start of the season in his most important start of the season.

"He's improved so much from the start of the season," Contreras said of Cosgrove. "The second half was a big confidence-builder for him, him going deep pretty much every ballgame. I told (pitching coach) Burt (Hooton), I said, 'I think (this game) was his best showing that he's had. Him and Osvaldo (Hernandez) probably matured the most and had the biggest improvements throughout the season."

Cosgrove got a tough no-decision, while Miller took the loss after surrendering the two 10th-inning runs. 

Looking back at it, this was an up-and-down season for the TinCaps, who always seemed on the verge of breaking through and becoming one of the best teams in the league, but never quite got there. It didn't help that they had a half-dozen key players on the disabled list at the end of the season and none of their three best starters (Osvaldo Hernandez, Luis Patiño, MacKenzie Gore) were available to start in the final series against the Whitecaps. Under those circumstances, this team performed admirably down the stretch and had opportunities to get into playoff position. It simply came up short, by the slimmest of margins. 

"As a baseball player, you try to live in the moment and then you've kinda gotta forget about things pretty quick," third baseman Miller said. "Now a lot of us go to (the instructional league) or a lot of guys get ready for the offseason, so it's just kind of getting ready for that next step."

dsinn@jg.net