AVON – It was a big game that called for a big-game pitching performance.
Josh Roberts was up to the task.
Roberts, who didn’t get out of the third inning in his last outing at All Pro Freight Stadium, went all nine Friday night in tossing a four-hitter to lead Lake Erie to a 4-0 win over Rockford in front of 3,536 fans at The Freight.
It was the fifth shutout of the season for the Crushers, who improved to 46-41.
It was also Roberts’ second complete game of the season and the Crushers’ third.
“I couldn’t be happier for (Roberts),” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “I know how bad he wanted to win and compete in this playoff chase. He took it hard that he struggled in his last one or two outings.
“For him to come up with a complete-game shutout – his best outing of the year – at a time when we need it the most, what else can you say?”
Traverse City downed Windy City 6-2 Friday, so the Crushers maintained their half-game lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the Frontier League’s East Division.
The Crushers have won three in a row and are 8-3 at The Freight in August.
Roberts (9-6) walked one and struck out four, while retiring eight batters in a row at one point and seven straight another time.
“I worked hard this week to get back into my normal form,” Roberts said. “I was in a slump the past few starts and I knew this wasn’t a good time to be in a slump. I just worked hard this week. I seemed to find my mechanics tonight and throw like I usually do.
“The main thing was just throwing strikes ahead in the count and just staying close. It was nice to come out here in this game and attack and give my baseball club a chance to win. Lucky enough, it was a shutout and the team scored runs when we needed to.”
Roberts, who is 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA against the RiverHawks this season, said he stayed behind when the Crushers went to Joliet earlier in the week to work on his mechanical problems. The decision paid off.
“We knew we were only going on a three-game trip and would be coming back at 6 in the morning (Friday), so we felt (leaving him behind) would be a good way for him to recharge his batteries,” Massarelli said. “He could work out here by himself, and that’s the type of guy he is – a workaholic. I knew he wouldn’t sit on his butt.
“He was attacking the zone with his strikes – 65-70 percent of his pitches were strikes. I’ve seen Josh pitch enough to know when he’s on and when he’s not. When he’s attacking the zone the way he was, I could tell he was going to have a good night.”
It wasn’t all Roberts, though. Jereme Milons set the tone with a leadoff home run, and then the Crushers used some timely hitting to scratch across their three additional runs off starter Nate Gaudi (1-1).
Milons blasted just his second home run of the season – his first since joining the Crushers at the All-Star break – on a 1-1 pitch from Gaudi over the wall in left-center.
“It’s a good way to get the team going, especially coming off a long day where we got in at 6 in the morning,” said Milons, who went 1-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. “A couple of the guys were sluggish, so I just wanted to get the team going. (Gaudi) left one up and I took advantage of it.”
Milons knows what’s at stake during this homestand.
“They’re big,” he said of the games. “Even though Rockford’s at the bottom of the league, you still have got to take these games seriously. You don’t want the guys to be ready to go home. We’ve got a lot of baseball to go, and we’ve got to keep the guys in that mind-set.
“As a veteran, it’s my job to have everyone focused and not worry about that other stuff. We’ll keep it that way and we’ll roll with it.”
Lake Erie added two more in the fourth inning and added an insurance run in the eighth.
“Gaudi did a nice job,” Massarelli said. “He attacked the zone and most of his pitches were strikes. We were fortunate that Milons gave us that cushion right away and then bunch those hits together in the (fourth).
“He’s a good pitcher and he threw well tonight. It helped that we were able to bunch some hits together when we did to give Josh some cushion.”
Andrew Davis and Jodam Rivera had two hits apiece for the Crushers. Davis’s RBI in the eighth was his 82nd of the season – second-most in the league – and his double in the fourth was his league-leading 52nd extra-base hit.
Rockford has never won a game at All Pro Freight Stadium. The RiverHawks, which have lost 10 straight road games, fell to 2-10 all-time against the Crushers.
To honor Breast Cancer Awareness Day, the Crushers wore special pink jerseys and all of the bases were pink. Fans also launched pink balloons that were handed out just before the start of the game.
• Crushers hitting coach Dave Schaub was injured Friday when a line drive went through the net of the team’s batting cage and hit him in the forehead. Fortunately, he only suffered a mild concussion, according to team sources, and was back at the stadium before the game ended. Massarelli, who coached third in Schaub’s place, jokingly said they “won one for the ‘Daub’ tonight.”
• During the Joliet series, the Crushers activated catcher Joel Collins from the disabled list and placed third baseman Evan Sharpley on the 14-day DL with an undisclosed injury. Collins started Friday.
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• WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Rockford RiverHawks
• TIME: 7:05
• WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
• PITCHERS: Fagan (6-10, 4.36 ERA) vs. Nyman (2-3, 2.93)