COMSTOCK PARK — The West Michigan Whitecaps were able to put Jan. 3 aside for one night and enjoy some baseball.
The Whitecaps beat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-2 Tuesday night in the home opener at Fifth Third Ballpark in front of 7,182 fans.
It was the first game since the Jan. 3 fire that destroyed the suites, concourse and home clubhouse on the first-base side of the ball park. The clubhouse and suites are still under construction.
“I’m sure it’s very personal for Lew (Whitecaps co-owner Lew Chamberlin) and all the owners of this field,” West Michigan manager Andrew Graham said. “As Lew said in the meeting in his speech before the game, the guys here have been working two to three jobs, basically, around the clock to get the field ready. The fact that they (fans) all turned out and we had a big crowd to support it was, I think that was just excellent.”
Both the Whitecaps (3-2) and Timber Rattlers (2-3) scored runs in the first inning. Michael Ratterree’s sacrifice fly in the top of the inning was countered by a Ben Verlander RBI single in the bottom half.
It was a pitcher’s duel from there until the fifth inning. Both Zach Quintana of Wisconsin and relief pitcher Julio Felix of West Michigan mowed down batters for three innings.
But a single by Dominic Ficociello and a Verlander sacrifice fly gave the Whitecaps a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
The Timber Rattlers made it close in the ninth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. Closer Montreal Robertson walked in a run but got a popout and a groundout to notch his second save of the season.
“I wasn’t that nervous,” Graham said. “I probably should have been in that situation. But Montreal has been throwing the ball well this year for us so far. It’s early in the season but I had a lot of faith in him to get out of the game.”
Felix got the win, allowing two hits and striking out four in 2 2/3 innings. Javier Betancourt had three hits for the Whitecaps.
Tyler Linehan took the loss in relief of Quintana, giving up two unearned runs on four hits and two walks, fanning two.
“It was good,” Graham said. “The crowd was great. I wasn’t expecting a crowd that big. The field looked amazing. It looked great. The playing surface needed work but it played well tonight. The guys are happy with a win on opening day.”
Graham liked what he saw from the ‘Caps.
“These guys, they respect the game and they play the game the right way,” Graham said. “We’re going to be a scrappy team that will play 27 outs every night and be in every ball game.”
The Whitecaps and Timber Rattlers will play the second game of their three-game series tonight.