On Thursday, the streaking Crushers put their mark on the record book with a nine-game winning streak, thanks to a 6-1 victory over the reeling Florence Freedom in front of 2,647 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The Freedom (30-44) have now lost 10 road games in a row. However, it’s the Crushers (39-35) streak that has the most importance.
The only other time the Crushers won eight in a row was the season-ending eight-game streak in 2010. The championship 2009 team never had a winning streak longer than six.
“It seems that every year, we’ve been able to add one to that (longest) streak, so this is right on par with what we’ve done,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “The other season’s don’t matter. We talked about it as a ballclub that, in order for us to get back in this (playoff) race, we needed to put a streak together like this. The guys have responded.
“We put ourselves that, once we put ourselves in the thick of things, we don’t have to rely on anyone else. We control our own destiny.”
The Crushers will take their streak to Evansville for the start of a six-game road trip.
“We’re going into Evansville and then Traverse City with that mentality — we control our own destiny,” Massarelli said. “There’s pressure, but that’s part of the game. This is the fun part of the season for the guys.
“Your careers in baseball are so short, you should enjoy times like this. You work to be part of the pennant chases all season. Enjoy the pressure, because it’s fun.”
And, unlike the last two nights, there was no need for late-inning heroics.
“It was nice for the old ticker to relax,” Massarelli said.
The Crushers are 28-16 since June 22 and 32-18 since beginning the season at 7-17. They remain a half-game behind Traverse City and five games behind East Division leading Joliet. But, according to the team, that’s not that important right now.
“We’re in the middle of the playoff race, and we’ve just got to keep winning,” said Andrew Davis, who continued his torrid second half with a 2-for-3 performance Thursday, including his team-best ninth home run and his team-leading 62nd and 63rd RBIs. “Hopefully, if we keep winning and some other people lose, we’ll be back in the postseason. We got a couple of big series’ coming up, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time, starting with Evansville.”
The win streak overshadowed the long-awaited Crushers debut of Eric Gonzalez-Diaz, who had been unable to join the team due to problems with his work visa.
Gonzalez threw over 90 pitches in his five innings, scattering three hits, four walks and one run while striking out six — three looking.
“I’ve been waiting five months to see Eric pitch,” Massarelli said. “Going through visa problems with Homeland Security. He’s definitely not a terrorist, so we’re very excited for that.”
Gonzalez, sporting the No. 32, was just relieved to finally be able to don the uniform and join the team.
“I’ve been following the team from Spain, and I know how important these remaining games are for us,” he said. “I’m just so happy to finally be here. I wish I could have been here sooner, but I’m glad they still wanted me to join them and I’m glad I can contribute.
“I played in a Spanish league for a team from my hometown (Tenerife) and I also played for the national team in the European championship qualifications. I tried to stay in shape as much as I could so I could help this team reach the playoffs.”
The Crushers drew first blood in the bottom of the second inning, when Chris Luick picked a perfect time to hit his first home run of the season.
Brian Erie hit a two-out single off of Florence starter Alec Lewis (2-5), and Luick drilled a 2-1 pitch over the right-field fence to give the Crushers a 2-0 lead.
Davis’ homer led off the sixth and increased the Crushers’ lead to 3-1, kick-starting a four-run spurt over the final three innings for Lake Erie.
Crushers infielder Jodam Rivera was suspended three games by the Frontier League, stemming from his ejection from Tuesday night’s 5-4 11-inning win. According to Crushers general manager Dan Helm, had Rivera not made contact with the umpire, he probably would not have been suspended. Rivera had served a two-game suspension last month stemming from his actions during a bench-clearing brawl at The Freight. The suspension began Thursday night.
The Crushers went over the 100,000-fan mark for the third straight season. They only needed 1,741 fans to eclipse the six-digit mark. They are currently fourth in the league in both overall and average attendance.