AVON — All Frontier Greys second baseman Ryan Kiesel had to do was take the ball out of his glove and toss it over to first.
But sometimes, when Freight Magic interferes, the simplest task goes awry for visiting teams and leads to a wild celebration for the Lake Erie Crushers.
Kiesel, who moved to the infield from left field an inning earlier, simply picked the worst possible time to commit his first error of the season, dropping a potential game-ending grounder by Craig Hertler and allowing the tying run to score in the bottom of the ninth.
One batter later, red-hot Daniel Bowman drilled a 1-2 pitch to the warning track in right, scoring Hertler with the game-winning run and capping a wild, improbable three-run ninth as the Crushers capped a three-game sweep with a 4-3 win front of 2,365 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The win dropped the Crushers’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth to one.
“We had some guys put the ball in play and they made a couple of mistakes,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “That’s what we needed at that point. We didn’t have anything going with the bats up till that point. … We just keep telling the guys to put the ball in play and see what happens.
“We put pressure on the defense and they made a couple of mistakes, leading up to that big hit by Bowman to end that game. It was one of those wild games. We fought tooth-and-nail and, fortunately, came out on the winning side.”
The win sets up a best-of-three regular-season-ending finale with the Traverse City Beach Bums, who defeated Joliet 4-3 in 10 innings Sunday. The teams will go into Tuesday’s game at The Freight tied atop the Frontier League East Division standings at 54-39.
The series winner wins the division title.
“We’re still worried about simply getting into the playoffs,” Isom said. “First place would be great, but we want to make sure we clinch the playoff berth. You don’t win a championship unless you get there first. But obviously, it’s in the back of our minds to finish in first place. But the goal is to make the playoffs to give yourselves a chance at that championship.”
The playoffs, however, seem like a certainty as both teams need just one win (or a Gateway loss) to punch their tickets to the postseason, being three games ahead of the Grizzlies and two ahead of the Florence Freedom with three games to play.
The Crushers were down 3-1 and had just three hits against Greys starter Matt Castillo and reliever Casey Delgado heading into the ninth. But with closer Ryan Woolley on the mound, crazy things began to happen.
First, third baseman Eric Avila booted an Anderson Hidalgo grounder, putting the leadoff runner on. Juan Sanchez followed with a single up the middle to put runners on first and second and Kevin Berard bunted the runners into scoring position. The single by Sanchez was the team’s first hit since the third inning.
Vincent Mejia, pinch hitting for catcher David Roney, hit a nubber to second base that allowed pinch runner Max Casper to score and moved Sanchez to third.
But now there were two outs.
Hertler followed with his grounder to second that turned into a huge error, scoring Sanchez with the tying run. Hertler promptly stole second and Woolley intentionally walked Granger to get to Bowman.
Bowman, who is hitting .350 over his last 10 games and was named to the Frontier League’s postseason All-Star team earlier Sunday, drilled one over the right fielder’s head into the corner. The hit scored Hertler easily, and Bowman was mobbed at second base.
“For me, standing on deck, I want to be in that situation,” said Bowman, who went 2-for-5 with two RBIs. “I feel confident in myself, and that’s the type of situation you live for right there — the chance to win your team a ballgame. I kind of was surprised (they walked Granger, but it’s their call to set up the force play at second. But I’m happy they did and that I got the opportunity.”
Bowman had the last hit for the Crushers prior to the ninth, an RBI single up the middle in the bottom of third to cut the Greys lead to 2-1. But up until the ninth, it was all Greys.
Crushers starter Matt Smith struggled through four innings, giving up six hits and three runs, all earned. He couldn’t get out of the fifth, allowing back-to-back singles. A two-out infield hit by Mark Micowski off reliever Mickey Jannis made it a 3-1 lead for the Greys (30-62).
It could have been four runs, but Michael Alley didn’t tag up properly on a fly out to center, and the Crushers successfully appealed to third for the second out of the inning.
The Frontier League released its annual postseason awards Sunday. While the Crushers were shut out of the big individual awards, they matched Gateway for most representatives with two players — first baseman Russell Moldenhauer and outfielder Daniel Bowman — on the postseason All-Star team.
Frontier League individual award winners included Florence third baseman Jacob Tanis (MVP), Traverse City’s Scott Dunn (Pitcher of the Year), Schaumburg’s Jamie Bennett (Manager of the Year), River City outfielder Danny Canela (Rookie of the Year), Southern Illinois infielder Cannon Lester (Citizenship Award) and Schaumburg and former Crushers broadcaster Tim Calderwood (Broadcaster of the Year). Schaumburg was named the Organization of the Year.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.