After finishing the recent road trip with 3-straight road wins, the Great Lakes Loons (18-32) continued its longest win streak of the season, winning its fourth straight with an impressive 12-4 victory over the South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs) at Dow Diamond tonight.
Loons manager John Shoemaker thinks this group has finally started to figure out how to win baseball games in the Midwest League, and he's hoping the wins keep coming.
"You've really gotta be happy for the guy's," Shoemaker said. "I think the fact that the weather is warming up a little bit and some guy's are starting to fit in to the league, finding out that the league is not easy, (and that it takes) a little extra work, and coming up with some clutch hits; we had not been hitting well at all with men in scoring position early in the season. I think team's go through cycles, and right now, this team is on a good cycle, and I'm just hoping it can continue because I'm really happy with the way the guy's are playing."
The Cubs struck first in the third inning when second baseman Christian Donahue led off with a triple then scored on a wild pitch by Loons starter Andre Jackson for a 1-0 South Bend lead with nobody out.
Jackson's troubles would continue as he proceeded to walk South Bend DH Chris Singleton and CF Zach Davis, while Cubs shortstop Jhonny Bethencourt moved both runners up with a sac bunt, which was followed by another wild pitch, allowing Singleton to score, as Jackson followed with a walk to Cubs first baseman Jared Young, putting runners at first and third, before Davis was eventually driven in on a sac fly RBI off the bat of South Bend third baseman Austin Filiere for a 3-0 Cubs lead midway through the third inning.
Jackson's (4.61 ERA) day would come to an end after giving up 3-runs on 2-hits and 4-walks, with 4-strikeouts through 3-innings of work, before he was replaced by Loons reliever Andre Scrubb (4.24 ERA) who went on to allow just 1-hit with 2-strikeouts through the following 2-innings.
The Loons answered in the bottom half of the inning when second baseman Moises Perez reached on a lead-off walk, then moved to second when CF Brayan Morales beat out a bunt single to put runners at first and second, while Perez advanced to third after tagging up on a deep fly ball to center field off the bat of Loons shortstop Zach McKinstry, before Perez was driven in on an RBI-single by third baseman Brandon Montgomery to cut the Cubs lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the third.
Great Lakes would take its first lead of the game when McKinstry led off the fifth with a walk and advanced to second when Montgomery beat out a bunt single to put runners on first and second with nobody out, while Loons RF Carlos Rincon drove in McKinstry (moving Montgomery over to third) with an RBI-double, before LF Romer Cuadrado followed with a 2-RBI single to score Montgomery and Rincon for a 4-3 Loons lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.
South Bend answered by loading the bases with two consecutive walks and a bunt single with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth, however, the Loons managed to hold the Cubs to just 1-run after South Bend RF Nelson Velazquez hit into a double play (scoring the runner from third) before Great Lakes reliever Melvin Jimenez struck out Donahue as South Bend would have to settle for just 1-run to tie the game at 4-runs apiece in the top of the sixth inning.
The Loons broke the game wide open in the bottom half of the sixth when Morales reached on a 1-out single, advanced to second on a throwing error, before stealing third base, while McKinstry walked to put runners at first and third with nobody out.
Montgomery followed with his fourth hit of the game to drive in Morales for a 5-4 Great Lakes lead, moving McKinstry to second as Rincon ripped an RBI-single to CF, scoring McKinstry for a 6-4 lead, before Cuadrado loaded the bases (giving a fan a chance to be the first ever to win $5,000 dollars) in the 'Grand Slam Inning' for DH Starling Heredia, who missed the history-making grand slam by inches, but still cleared the bases with a 3-RBI double high off the right field wall at Dow Diamond for a 9-4 Loons lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With his four hits tonight, Montgomery now has 6-hits and 5-RBI's in his last 11-at bats over the past two games, which the 2016 Dodgers draft pick out of San Jacinto College attributes to having confidence in his approach at the plate.
"It's more confidence than anything," Montgomery said. "Even if your swing feels bad that day, because you can't have a perfect swing everyday, you just gotta have the confidence that you can do it, and hopefully it will all click into place."
Jimenez (1-5, BS1) would regroup after his first blown save to also earn his first victory of the season after giving up just the 1-run on 1-hit and 2-walks, with 1-strikeout through 2-solid innings of relief.
Heredia (6) wrapped up the Loons' scoring with a 3-run home run, scoring Jared Walker (who had doubled) and Cuadrado (who had singled) for a 12-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Loons closer Justin Hoyt (7.36 ERA) finished out the game, allowing just 2-walks, with 1-strikeout to close out the final 2-innings.
South Bend starter Brendon Little (a first round pick of the Chicago Cubs, 27th overall, in the 2017 MLB draft out of the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota) was tagged with his fourth loss of the season for the Cubs after giving up 7-runs on 10-hits and 5-walks, with 5-strikeouts through 5 2/3 innings.
Heredia finished 3 for 5 with 6-RBI's to lead the Loons offense tonight, followed by Montgomery who was 4 for 5 with 2-RBI's and Morales who finished 3 for 5, while Rincon and Cuadrado were each 2 for 4 with 2-RBI's apiece respectively.
The Loons and Cubs will have a quick turnaround with the second game of this 3-game series set to start at 10:35 am for a school kids day game right back here at Dow Diamond tomorrow morning.
Starling Heredia came close to hitting the first ever grand slam during a Great Lakes Loons "grand slam inning" with this bases clearing double high off the right field wall at Dow Diamond: