One night after Josh Roberts shut out Rockford 4-0, Paul Fagan matched him Saturday night in another 4-0 win over the RiverHawks in front of 3,124 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The Crushers (47-41) remain a half-game ahead of Traverse City following their fourth straight win. The Beach Bums kept pace with a 3-1 win over Windy City.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Crushers’ magic number is seven.
Fagan (7-10) only threw 91 pitches in his nine innings of work, holding Rockford (34-55) to six hits and no walks. He even had two six-pitch innings. He only struck out two, but the way his defense was playing, he didn’t need more.
“It feeds off each other,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “I’m sure this is how the Phillies feel every night with their pitching. Roberts threw a gem last night, and Fagan wanted to throw a gem of his own. It’s competition, and it’s good to see.
“His last outing at Joliet, he took the loss, but he pitched better than his line. He pitched good enough to win. We’re gonna need him, Roberts, (Eric) Gonzalez and (Thomas) Campbell tomorrow. We’re gonna have to win this thing with pitching, so to get these kind of outings now is great.”
Fagan only faced more than the minimum three hitters in three innings and never faced more than four hitters in an inning.
“They were getting aggressive early on, which is a good sign,” Fagan said. “I think they were sticking to some of the same approaches they used on me last time, so I pitched them backward. I just went at them with fastballs, whereas last time I used a lot of breaking balls.
“I had great defense behind me tonight. They made a lot of good plays. The outfielders made a lot of great assists. It was a whole team effort tonight.”
Fagan admitted he wanted to match what Roberts did Friday night.
“He pitched a hell of game, and he needed it (and) our team needed it,” Fagan said. “That’s the type of momentum we’re going to want and need if we hopefully get into the playoffs. I’m just glad I threw less pitches than him.”
As good as Fagan was, his defense provided plenty of support:
• Catcher Brian Erie caught Freddy Parejo stealing in the top of the first.
• Right fielder Jereme Milons gunned down Luis Parache trying to stretch a leadoff single into a double in the third.
• Center fielder Patrick Norris threw out Matt Greener at third when he tried to advance from first on a two-out single by pinch-hitter Jeremy Richter in the seventh.
“A play like Milons made off of the hit by Parache, that’s an inning-changer,” Massarelli said. “That leads off an inning, and that’s a possible run right there that gets wiped out by a great play. It goes hand in hand – pitching and defense.”
Meanwhile, like Friday night, the Crushers made the most of their seven hits to score four runs.
Milons led off the bottom of the first with a single off Chris Nyman (2-4) and scored on Andrew Davis’ single. It was Davis’ 82nd RBI, second most in the Frontier League.
In the second, Patrick Norris drilled an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left-center for a solo home run – his first of the season – for a 2-0 lead.
“It felt good coming off the bat,” said Norris, who went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. “I had one earlier in the season that got robbed at the wall, so I was glad this one cleared the fence to get the monkey off my back from all the guys talking to me.
“All these games are pretty much like playoff games. It’s going to come down to timely pitching, timely hitting and every run counts. You can’t take any game, any opponent, for granted.”
The Crushers tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth on a two-out bases-loaded walk to Brian Erie.
Davis and Jason Taylor were both 2-for-4. Davis has hit safely in seven of his last eight games and his RBI streak has extended to 13 games.
Rockford tied a franchise record with a 24-inning scoreless skid and suffered back-to-back shutouts for only the third time in their history. However, it is the second time this month they’ve done it.
It was Ohio State Night at The Freight on Saturday. The Crushers wore special Ohio State-themed jerseys that were auctioned off following the game, and ex-Buckeye football player Dustin Fox and former basketball player Jim Jackson threw out the first pitches and signed autographs on the concourse.
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