Fortunately for them, Daniel Bowman has a flair for the dramatic … and for winning.
Bowman hit the first pitch he saw in the 10th inning for a solo home run that just cleared the fence in dead center field, lifting Lake Erie to a thrilling walk-off 6-5 victory over the Rockford Aviators in front of 3,175 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
It’s the first time the Crushers (21-21, 13-8 at The Freight) have been at .500 since May 23, when they were 3-3. It’s also their eighth win in their last nine home games.
Bowman, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, finished off the last-place Aviators (12-30), who dropped to 2-14 on the road. Along the way, the Crushers squandered a 2-0 lead, rallied from a 4-2 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the fifth, and gave up a run in the eighth on a one-out wild pitch.
“It was exciting,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “It could be anybody in our lineup on any day coming up with the big hit. Tonight was Bowman’s chance. He got a pitch that he could handle — a ball middle in — and got a hold of it. It was exciting, especially with that crowd.
“It seems like every time we get close to that .500 mark, we wind up losing three or four in a row. That’s one thing we needed to get to. It was kind of a sticking point for us. Hopefully, we’re over that sticking point and now we can work ourselves over .500 and stay on the other side.”
After Rockford reliever Nick Cicio (1-3) struck out Andrew Davis to start the 10th, Bowman lifted a high drive to the deepest part of the park. Center fielder Michael Hur gave chase and made a great effort at the wall, but the ball just eluded his glove to touch off a wild celebration at the plate.
“This is the first time that’s ever happened to me, so this is a pretty exciting experience for me,” said Bowman, who got a shaving cream pie to the face when he entered the clubhouse. “I was just looking for a fastball middle of the plate. I tried to put a good swing on it. I thought they’d come at me with a fastball — they’d been doing it all night — so that’s what I was looking for.”
Bowman, who has two home runs on the season, raised his RBI total to 24.
A bizarre set of circumstances led to a pair of Rockford runs in the top of the fifth, resulting in the ejection of catcher Emmanuel Quiles, three errors, two unearned runs and the Aviators taking a 4-2 lead.
Jeff Kremer led off with a single and Brandon Newton followed with a sacrifice bunt. However, starter Matt Smith threw over the first baseman’s head for an error, advancing both runners into scoring position.
Smith coaxed a fly out to center fielder Kevin Berard for the first out, and Berard fired a bullet to the plate to keep Kremer at third. However, the throw sailed over Quiles’ head. Quiles got to the ball and flipped it to Smith, who was covering the plate. The throw beat Kremer to the plate, but Smith dropped the ball to give the Aviators a 3-2 lead.
While Kremer and Smith were still on the ground, Newton took off for home. Not only did Kremer keep Smith pinned, but replays showed he moved the ball away from Smith and Quiles to the left of the plate. Quiles made a sliding scoop and put the tag on Newton, but he was also called safe by home plate umpire Mike Martin.
When Quiles started to argue, Martin appeared to bump Quiles, who proceeded to shove Martin back and was quickly ejected. Isom had to run out and separate Quiles and Martin.
“Those two runs were crazy,” Isom said. “I’ve been involved with professional baseball for 20 years now and you think you’ve seen everything, and that’s something I’ve never seen going to the ballpark. To (Rockford’s) credit, they were very aggressive. But the key to that is if we cut that ball (from Berard), because they were holding at third base, and if we back up and get in the right positions, we don’t put ourselves into that position. That’s what was frustrating to me.”
The Crushers responded with three runs in the bottom of the fifth, with Andrew Davis’ two-run ground-rule double — his second ground-rule double of the game — tying the score. A two-out RBI single by Anderson Hidalgo extended his hitting streak to eight games and scored Davis to give the Crushers a 5-4 lead.
Mickey Jannis gave the Crushers 4⅔ innings of quality relief, but allowed an unearned run in the top of the eighth to tie the score at 5. He and Jordan Wellander (1-2) held the Aviators to just two hits and no earned runs over the final 5⅔.
“The defense let us down a bit and put us in a bit of a bind, but the guys responded,” Isom said. “We made four errors tonight that cost us three unearned runs, which is not us. But it wasn’t like, ‘Uh-oh, we’re in trouble.’ It kicked off a sense of urgency to get that lead back and we played well enough to get in that situation to win it in the bottom of the 10th.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.