Halfway through the six-game stretch, it’s becoming the Homestand from Hell.
In a series that featured a no-hitter and two blowouts, Lake Erie was dealt a four-hitter by Joliet, who swept the Crushers 5-1 in front of 3,432 fans.
The Crushers have fallen below the .500 mark at The Freight with the loss (15-16), and to 28-34 overall in suffering their fourth consecutive defeat. This is the third time the Crushers have been swept at home.
Joliet outscored the Crushers 23-4 in the three-game sweep. In two of those losses, Lake Erie had a grand total of four hits and were held to just 10 hits overall.
The frustration is apparently beginning to show. Crushers manager John Massarelli did not make himself available to the media following Friday night’s game.
The Crushers fell to 2-7 against Joliet (36-26) with three away games remaining. They have no chance to win the season series against the East Division leaders, further dampening their dwindling playoff chances.
The players are more than ready to put this one on the backburner and move forward.
“We’re just kind of in one of those funks where we’re hitting the ball and making plays, but we’re hitting right at people,” said Andrew Davis, who had two of the Crushers’ four hits and drove in their lone run. “That’s just baseball, and we’re struggling a little bit as a result.
“We’ve got a lot of games left and we think we can still make a run for the playoffs. In baseball, you’ve got to take it one day at a time. Today we’re playing Joliet. That’s over. Tomorrow we’ve got Washington. We’ll put these behind us and focus on getting back on track.”
The Slammers increased their lead over the Crushers to eight games with just 33 left in the regular season.
One bright spot for the Crushers: They held Joliet without a home run. The Slammers had belted four homers in each of the two previous games.
“There’s no pressure. Every time we go out, we aim to do the best we can,” said Crushers starter Randy Sturgill (4-1), who was handed his first loss of the season despite six solid innings of work. “We’re going to hit. We’re a talented team, so we pitchers don’t worry about that. We do the best that we can and hope for the best.”
Jake Renshaw (7-4) was throwing a two-hit shutout at the Crushers before they started to show some sparks of life in the bottom of the ninth.
Patrick Norris led off by beating out a high chopper to second for an infield single. Jereme Milons followed with a walk to set the stage for Davis.
As he’s done in so many ninth innings at The Freight in the past, Davis delivered, lining an 0-2 pitch into right for a single. Norris beat the throw to the plate to make it 5-1 with nobody out and the potential tying run on-deck.
Joliet manager Ron Riga made the move to the pen and put in Ryan Quigley, who retired Kellen Kulbacki on a pop out to short and struck out Jason Taylor and Evan Sharpley to preserve the sweep and earn his league-leading 19th save.
Renshaw tossed eight strong innings, allowing just a run on four hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts. He retired 24 of the first 27 batters he faced, including streaks of 10 and nine in a row.
“Their guy kept us off balance,” Davis said. “They’ve got a good team. We’ve been playing right there with them most of the year. They’ve been hitting the ball good and they’ve been in first place almost all year. They just have a great team, and hat’s off to them.
“Hopefully, when we go to their place (in August), we’ll be in a better phase of our game.”
Davis paced the Crushers at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles, and extended his on-base streak to 33 games in the process. He has 39 hits in the month of July.
Sturgill pitched well for the Crushers in a losing effort, allowing three runs on three hits with a trio of walks and four strikeouts over six innings.
“I struggled in the first inning a bit,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t want to go out and give up a run right off the bat. But I was able to settle down and produce a decent outing. Things just didn’t work out in our favor today.”
All-Star MVP Erik Lis put the wraps on a monster series with two RBIs for the Slammers. He went 6-for-11 with two home runs, three runs and six RBIs. His sacrifice fly in the first inning gave Joliet a 1-0 lead.
In the third, back-to-back singles by Josh Flores and Brad Netzel and a hit batsman loaded the bases for Lis with nobody out, and his second-straight sac fly made it 2-0.
David Fox followed with what looked to be a tailor-made double-play grounder. However, Zac Messer’s throw was a little wide and, despite a great effort by Taylor at first, the umpires ruled Fox safe. The play resulted in Netzel scoring the third run of the game.
The Crushers placed starting pitcher Andrew Weeks on the seven-day disabled list Friday. Weeks left Wednesday’s game with a leg injury and was walking around on crutches Friday. He believes he’ll only miss one start. The team has three vacant roster spots to fill.
• Catcher Joel Collins is due for an X-ray on his broken wrist Monday and could get his cast removed if it’s healed. Collins speculates that he’d only be out four more days from Monday if the cast were to come off.
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