As the Great Lakes Loons wrap up their 2013 season over the next week, they have an opportunity to do something that they have not done since 2010: make the Midwest League playoffs. After beating the Dayton Dragons, 4-1, on Wednesday night, the Loons are 3 1/2 games up on Dayton with five games left. The Loons are five games up on West Michigan, but have the tiebreaker because they had a better record in the head-to-head matchups with the Whitecaps. If Great Lakes wins on Thursday night, they clinch a spot in the postseason (!) for the first time in three years.
Should they clinch, things should be a bit more positive for the Loons than they were for Jim Mora on that fateful day in Indianapolis almost 12 years. Although that video is still one of the all-time classic coaching rants in the history of sports.
Great Lakes has made the playoffs twice before during their seven-year history, in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 season brought the franchise’s first playoff appearance, with a team that was led by Midwest League co-MVPs Kyle Russell and Dee Gordon, a future two-time No. 1 Dodgers prospect. After the Loons finished 25 games below .500 in their first season and 31 games below .500 in year two, the 2009 team went out and brought home an 81-59 record, led by Gordon’s .301 batting average and 73 stolen bases, as well as Russell’s 26 home runs and 102 RBI.
The Loons advanced to the Eastern Division championship after knocking off the West Michigan Whitecaps, 3-2, in an elimination game at West Michigan. Jaime Pedroza, named to the Great Lakes Loons 5th Anniversary Team in 2012, hit a solo home run in the 10th inning to push Great Lakes past the first round. The Loons staved off elimination against Fort Wayne in the second round in one of the most improbable comebacks in franchise history before falling in game three in Fort Wayne.
That win had Loons fans buzzing all offseason and gave the franchise momentum that it would continue in year four.
The 2010 season gave Loons fans a team that would set a franchise record for wins, finishing with a record of 90-49 after a late-season win over Bowling Green at Dow Diamond. That Great Lakes team had a dominant pitching staff that featured five future big leaguers, including Steve Ames, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Magill, Josh Wall and Allen Webster. The Loons also had another future MLB player in Jerry Sands and were led by the 2010 Midwest League Manager of the Year, Juan Bustabad.
Great Lakes dropped the first game of the playoffs to the Fort Wayne TinCaps, but exploded in game two with an eight-run eighth inning to force a game three, where they knocked off the defending Midwest League champs with a 6-4 win at Dow Diamond in game three.
Brian Cavazos-Galvez homered and drove in five runs in the first game of the Eastern Division championship series en route to 10-8 victory at Lake County, but then Great Lakes took a crushing loss in game two and lost 6-1 in the deciding game three.
The postseason is special in any sport. It’s hard to win a championship at any level. However, the first step is getting there and the Loons have that opportunity in front of them. Thursday is a $1 Family Feast Night, presented by Chemical Bank, and Great Lakes will play in front of a packed house at Dow Diamond with a chance to punch their ticket to the Midwest League playoffs.