AVON — Two things you can’t defend in baseball — the base on balls and the home run — cost Lake Erie a chance to climb even closer to the top of the standings as the Frontier League’s first half concluded Sunday at All Pro Freight Stadium.
Two walks and Balbino Fuenmayor’s three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning was all it took as the Crushers fell 3-2 to the Frontier Greys in the final game before the four-day All-Star break. It prevented Lake Erie from sweeping a four-game series from the Greys, a team that plays all its games on the road.
“Two walks and a home run — they got us on that one,” Lake Erie manager Jeff Isom said. “The way we’ve been swinging the bats — we’ll play defense and scrap and get a few runs and see what happens.”
That formula worked fine for the first three games of the series as the Crushers climbed over the .500 mark for the first time all season and within four games of league-leading Traverse City. The loss sends the six local representatives to Wednesday’s All-Star Game in Washington, Pa., with a 25-24 first-half mark and five games behind the Beach Bums.
Lake Erie opens the second half at Gateway on Friday. The six representatives are pitchers Matt Rein and Dave Middendorf — Sunday’s losing pitcher — and veteran third baseman Andrew Davis, Max Casper (2B), Emmanuel Quiles (C) and right fielder Daniel Bowman.
After spotting the Greys three runs, the Crushers nearly pulled some Freight magic out of their hats in the bottom of the sixth. Seth Granger — bumped up to the lead-off spot Sunday — singled to left to start the inning but was retired at second on Casper’s fielder’s choice.
Bowman ripped a double to the gap in right-center, setting the stage for a potentially big inning with the hot-hitting Anderson Hidalgo and Davis, the league’s home run leader, coming up.
However, Hidalgo popped out to second baseman Esteban Meletiche in short center. Davis followed with a weak roller down the first baseline that neither pitcher Graham Johnson nor first baseman Feunmoyer seemed to want to pick up. Feunmoyer finally tried to grab it but failed to pick it up, allowing Casper to score. Bowman, motoring right behind him, also scored.
Davis was safe at first but Quiles ended the inning with a fielder’s choice grounder to third.
“You put the ball in play and anything can happen,” Isom said. “I give all the credit in the world to Bowman right there. He gave us that second run. I was caught up watching that ground ball and seeing what was happening. The next thing I knew Bowman came running by me.
“We got our two runs and we had our opportunity late in the game and couldn’t make anything of it.”
Granger led off the eighth with a walk but was picked off by relief pitcher Ryan Woolley. Bowman singled with two out but Hidalgo grounded out to end the inning. Russell Moldenhauer singled with two out in the ninth but Juan Sanchez struck out to end the game.
“He’s seeing the ball very well right now,” Isom said of Granger’s switch to the top of the order. “He’s feeling confident at the plate. He had two hits and a walk — he’s getting on base.”
Middendorf was trying for his eighth win of the year but wasn’t sharp and left after four innings. The bullpen was solid again, but the damage was done.
“It wasn’t his day,” Isom said of his ace left-hander. “He didn’t have his best stuff. We felt not only for this game but for the future, let’s just get him out of there. He’ll be pitching the second game after the All-Star break, plus the All-Star game. We figured let the bullpen get some work in and they did a very nice job for us.”
Even with the loss, Isom is optimistic about the rest of the season.
“We finished the first half pretty well,” he said. “Yeah, we’d like to have this win. It’s a well-timed break for us. This four days will be nice to recharge the batteries for the second half.
“If we continue to pitch and play defense, we’ll give ourselves a lot of opportunities to win ballgames. If we continue to win, we’re going to be right there at the top and be in the playoffs.”
- WHAT: Frontier League All-Star Game
- WHEN: Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
- WHERE: Consol Energy Park, Washington, Pa.
- CRUSHERS ALL-STARS: Starters — Andrew Davis, 3B; Emmanuel Quiles, C; Pitchers — Dave Middendorf, Matt Rein; Reserves — Max Casper, Daniel Bowman
- Davis will participate in the Home Run Derby on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The Crushers return to action Friday against the Gateway Grizzlies at 7:05 p.m. at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill.