By Andrew Johnson
COMSTOCK PARK – Anthony Pereira wasn’t even supposed to be in the lineup on Monday, but he ended up being the hero in the West Michigan Whitecaps’ wild card clinching 3-2 victory over Fort Wayne on Sunday.
With no outs and the bases loaded in a 2-2 game, Pereira sent a shallow fly ball to right field.
Tin Caps right fielder Agustin Ruiz made a spectacular diving catch to get the out, but the Whitecaps’ Brady Policelli easily tagged up at third and sprinted home for the winning run.
“I was just looking for something in the middle of the plate,” said Pereira about the game-winning sacrifice fly.
Pereira was called on to play first base after starter Jordan Pearce was ejected for arguing a checked swing call in the second inning.
“A ground ball is a ground ball anywhere,” said Pereira, who had never played first base before Monday. “I can play anywhere in the infield, so it wasn’t too bad for me.”
With the victory, West Michigan overtook Fort Wayne for the Midwest League Eastern Division second-half wild-card playoff berth. The Whitecaps finished the regular season with a 69-70 record, including a 33-36 mark in the second half.
The Whitecaps will begin postseason play when they host Great Lakes on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. for Game 1 of a three-game series.
The game started out looking bleak for the Whitecaps, who made multiple physical and mental errors.
In the first inning, Fort Wayne got on the board when Whitecaps shortstop Wenceel Perez threw the ball over Pearce’s head, allowing Jack Suwinski to score, giving the Tin Caps a 1-0 lead.
The score remained the same until the home part of the seventh when Whitecaps designated hitter Rey Rivera singled to start the inning.
Rivera advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Eric De La Rosa before going to third on a wild pitch.
With one out and Rivera on third, Joey Morgan was called on to pitch hit for starting catcher Chris Proctor. Morgan reached a 2-1 count before hitting an RBI groundout to second base, tying the game at 1-1.
The game went to extra innings, with each team starting with a runner on second base, per league rules.
Fort Wayne took a 2-1 lead on a one-out RBI groundout by Suwinski in the top of the tenth.
Facing the end of the season, West Michigan started a rally when Valenete started the inning on second base and leadoff hitter Brady Policelli walked.
Valente and Policelli advanced to third and second on a wild pitch. Fort Waynr intentionally walked Perez, giving the Whitecaps the bases loaded with no outs.
Colby Bortles fell behind 1-2 before ripping an RBI single off the gloves of Fort Wayne pitcher Evan Miller and second baseman Kelvin Melean. The ball bounced into center field and Valente was able to come home and tie the game at 2-2.
Pereira then stepped to the plate with none out and the bases loaded before hitting his game-winning RBI sacrifice fly to right field.
Valente led the Whitecaps offense with three hits while Rivera and Bortles each finished with two on the day.