Kalamazoo, MI – The first seven innings of baseball in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Tuesday night featured a pitching duel that progressed at a swift pace. The Lakeshore Chinooks’ Heath Renz and Kalamazoo Growlers’ Jeff Burch matched zeroes on the scoreboard for much of the evening. Renz held the Growlers scoreless while Lakeshore scraped two runs on two hits against Burch.
Then the eighth inning arrived, and the Growlers got to the Chinooks’ bullpen.
Northwoods League rules dictate that a pitcher cannot begin an inning if he has already exceeded 100 pitches in the game. Renz’s final pitch of the seventh inning was his 101st, meaning Lakeshore would have to rely on its relief pitching to preserve a 2-0 lead with six outs to get.
The bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and the Growlers pounced for a four-run eighth inning and held on in a turbulent ninth for a 4-3 victory on Opening Night.
Renz pitched brilliantly for Lakeshore, scattering five hits and two walks in seven shutout innings. He struck out six and consistently induced weak contact. When the Growlers were able to barrel up a pitch, the Chinooks’ defense came to Renz’s aid on more than one occasion. Outfielders Connor Kimple and DJ Lee each made fine diving plays to take away would-be extra base hits. Lee’s grab was especially crucial, as it came with two outs and two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth.
In the third inning, Renz allowed the first two batters to reach base but each were promptly erased by pickoffs.
Lefty reliever Trevor Smisek battled command issues in the eighth inning and took the loss, issuing two walks and allowing three runs. Nine of his 17 pitches missed the strike zone. Right-hander Alex Stevenson relieved Smisek in the eighth, and allowed what ultimately became Kalamazoo’s winning run. The Growlers sent nine batters to the plate in their four-run eighth.
While the Growlers’ bats came alive late, the Chinooks struggled to get anything going offensively all night long. Lakeshore scored quickly in the first inning without a hit. Burch struggled to locate pitches for the Growlers, hitting and walking the Chinooks’ first two batters of the game. Shortstop Jake Thompson, who led off the game, scored later in the inning on a wild pitch. Lakeshore’s second run of the game came in the seventh inning, with the rally again being aided by a wild pitch. Burch hit three batters and threw three wild pitches in 6 1/3 innings, but struck out eight Chinooks hitters.
Lakeshore managed only four hits in total against the Growlers’ pitching staff, and two came in the ninth inning. The only extra-base hit of the game came off the bat of Chinooks second baseman Takahiro Yamada, who narrowly missed a game-tying home run in the top of the ninth when he drilled an RBI double off the left field wall, scoring Lee to trim the Growlers’ lead to 4-3. Yamada drove in two of the Chinooks’ three runs. Lee had two of Lakeshore’s four hits and reached base three times. With runners on second and third and two outs, Thompson grounded out to end the threat, and the game.
The team will look for its first win of the season as it remains in Kalamazoo tomorrow for an early start time on Wednesday. First pitch is at 10:05 am CST.