The Dayton Dragons aren’t concerned with being the best team in minor league baseball. They just want to be the best in the Midwest League.
They had a chance to do both Friday night. Dayton opened a four-game series against the West Michigan Whitecaps at Fifth Third Field in an East Division showdown.
It was a battle through 12 innings until West Michigan’s Josh Lester unloaded on a 1-2 pitch, sending a moon shot to right field for a grand slam that broke a 3-3 tie and eventually beat the Dragons, 7-5, after Bruce Yari answered with a two-run shot in the home half.
West Michigan retained minor league baseball’s best record (out of 120 teams) at 33-14. Dayton, which entered Friday tied with Lehigh Valley of the International League for the second-best record, dropped to 31-16.
More important, the Dragons dropped two games behind the Whitecaps in the East Division.
The top two teams in the division qualify for the postseason at the end of the 70-game first half. The Dragons haven’t won a first-half championship since 2007 and haven’t reached the playoffs since 2011.
Game changer: After stranding a Whitecaps runner at third to end the top of the ninth, the Dragons missed an opportunity to win in the bottom of the inning.
Cassidy Brown drew a lead-off walk and Luis Gonzalez pushed a perfectly placed bunt past the pitcher’s mound for an infield single. Hector Vargas hit into a fielder’s choice that got Brown out at third and T.J. Friedl struck out. Jose Siri loaded the bases on an error at second base. But the threat ended with Taylor Trammell’s strikeout.
The Dragons squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the seventh after pushing across one run. Trammell reached on a dropped third strike, Yari bounced a one-out single over first base and Brown loaded the bases on a four-pitch, two-out walk. Gonzalez drove in Dayton’s first run after getting hit by a pitch. But the threat ended with a Vargas fly out to right.
In the bottom of the eighth, Friedl led off with a double down the right-field line. Siri followed with a single to right. Trammell drove both in with a two-run triple into the gap in right-center, tying the game at 3-3. Yari hit into a fielder’s choice that saw Trammell thrown out at home.
Dragon tales: Second baseman Brantley Bell is batting .309 over his last 33 games, which has raised his average from .133 to .275. He had a multi-hit game Friday.
Tyler Stephenson extended his hitting streak to eight games and Friedl, who homered three times in Thursday’s doubleheader, extended his hitting streak to seven games. Trammell and Gonzalez share the Dragons’ longest hitting streak of the season at nine games
On deck: Left-hander Ty Boyles (0-0, 4.26 ERA) gets the start for the Dragons on Saturday as the four-game series continues at Fifth Third Field. West Michigan goes with lefty Greg Soto (4-0, 1.26). The game is scheduled to start at 7:07 p.m. and airs on Dayton’s CW (26).