A bench-clearing brawl between the Lake Erie Crushers and the Rockford RiverHawks marred the teams’ series finale in the sweltering Wednesday morning heat, with on-field temperatures reaching 104 degrees.
The Crushers (25-28) earned the series sweep with a 10-3 win, improving to 15-13 at All Pro Freight Stadium. However, the brawl was the hot topic of the game.
“They won on ejections, 3-2,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “In a game like this, sometimes fights can spark your team. When you’re already up, though, sometimes you might awake sleeping dogs. That’s always my fear if you’re winning.
“Fortunately, we didn’t wake them too much and we got the sweep.”
The fracas took place in the third, when Lake Erie’s Evan Sharpley was walked on four inside pitches by Rockford starter Joe Scumaci (3-1).
“Apparently, Sharpley and (Rockford catcher Carlos) Dominguez couldn’t agree on where they wanted to get dinner after the game, or which kid was the loudest in the stands,” Massarelli joked. “So they decided to go at it.”
Sharpley and Dominguez exchanged words before the catcher charged the former Notre Dame quarterback. Sharpley tackled Dominguez and the pair began throwing punches.
Both benches emptied and the teams clashed on the first-base line.
Jodam Rivera, who was on deck, confronted Scumaci during the melee. The Crushers player was tackled to the ground by Rockford hitting coach Patrick O’Sullivan, setting off another outburst. Lake Erie pitching coach Chris Steinborn exchanged heated words with the RiverHawks coaching staff as he was physically restrained.
Action was delayed for about 20 minutes as umpires Jeremy Stangelo and Jacob Asher sorted everything out. They reviewed the footage after the game to submit a report to the league.
After the dust had settled, ejections were given to Scumaci, Dominguez, Sharpley, Rockford reliever Joey Gradney and Crushers closer Ruben Flores, and suspensions and fines may still be levied by the Frontier League. With this being Rockford’s fifth ejection of the season, a league-mandated suspension will likely be handed down to Hawks manager Rich Austin.
A precursor to the brawl took place in the second inning, when Sharpley and Dominguez were involved in a home-plate collision on a fielder’s choice grounder from rookie Brian Erie. Sharpley came in high on Dominguez, who held on to the ball and tagged him out.
As Sharpley circled back to the dugout, Dominguez wagged his finger at him.
“It’s part of the game,” Sharpley said. “I think it stemmed from early on with the little collision between me and the catcher my first time up. He didn’t like that too much.
“They went hard in four straight pitches. I think they meant to hit me, but didn’t. So I said something to their catcher, asked him what was going on. He told me, ‘You know why.’ That’s just part of the game.”
At the time of the brawl, the Crushers had a 3-0 lead and Sharpley’s walk loaded the bases with one out. Following the brawl, the Crushers let their bats do the talking against reliever Kevin Patterson.
Rivera hit a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Kellen Kulbacki to make it 4-0. Robby Kuzdale followed with an RBI bloop single to right, scoring Jason Taylor to make it 5-0.
Then Erie — who was making his Crushers debut — drilled a shot down the right-field line for a two-run double to make it 7-0. Erie was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple, but the damage was done.
None of the runs were earned thanks to an error by Rockford third baseman Jake Eigsti.
“We executed before the fight with some hit-and-runs and moving guys from first to third,” Massarelli said. “After the fight, we had a couple of clutch two-out hits that really broke it open for us.”
The brawl overshadowed a solid six-inning outing from Crushers starter Paul Fagan (4-7), who was roughed up in the Crushers only other morning home game on June 1.
Fagan blanked the RiverHawks (23-31) for five innings before giving up three runs in the sixth. He gave up four hits, two walks and struck out five.
“It felt good early on, but my command was up a bit in the second inning,” Fagan said. “We needed a series like this. The run support makes it a bit easier, but nothing’s easy in that heat. I attacked guys inside and relied on my sinker and was able to stick to my game plan.”
The three runs in the sixth — all unearned — snapped an 18-inning scoreless streak for the RiverHawks against the Crushers.
“I think Paul fed off of what (Josh) Roberts did (Tuesday),” Massarelli said. “That’s the kind of guy Paul is — he wants to top the last guy. And, he effectively did. It was good to see.”
Rookies Erie and T.J. Baumet made their home debuts good ones for the Crushers. Erie went 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs, while Baumet went 1-for-1 with a double and two runs scored.
Andrew Davis extended his on-base streak to 24 games with a fourth-inning triple. Jodam Rivera’s on-base streak is at 20 games with his RBI double in the fifth.