AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers are headed to the postseason for the third time in their five-year history and the first time since 2011.
The Crushers earned their playoff berth before their 12-inning marathon opener with Traverse City came to an end, thanks to losses by Gateway, Florence and River City on Tuesday night.
But to make the celebration genuine, Anderson Hidalgo hit a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the 12th to give the Crushers a 3-2 win over the Beach Bums.
The Crushers fell behind 2-0 in the top of the fifth, but answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, tied the game with another in the bottom of the eighth and used a second-base flub by the Beach Bums to set up the game-winning rally.
“I can actually breathe now,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “You look at the course of this season, it’s a long season and we’ve done a nice job. We’ve had streaks here and there and we put ourselves in a great position here in the last three games, where we only had to win one instead of having to win them all and be on the outside looking
It’s the fourth win in a row for the Crushers (55-39) and they now hold sole possession of first place over the Beach Bums (54-40), who also clinched a playoff berth due to the other losses. It is also the Crushers’ fourth straight win over Traverse City — all at home. If the Crushers win one of their final two games, they’ll win their first-ever division crown.
“I think these are the types of games you can expect in this playoff series coming up against Traverse City,” Isom said. “We’ll most likely be playing Traverse City (this weekend) — I don’t know if there’s any way that we can’t. With two good teams going at it with everything at stake, these are the types of games you’re going to see in this series.”
The Crushers bats came to life in the bottom of the 12th against relievers Burny Mitchem (0-4) and Kent Teague. And once again, it was Craig Hertler who started it off with a single up the middle.
Seth Granger bunted Hertler to second, and Daniel Bowman — Sunday’s hero — popped up the first pitch he saw to second base. Beach Bums second baseman Ryan Still had the ball in his glove, but it popped out and hit the turf, putting runners at first and second.
“There’s a bad aura at second base for the other team, I guess,” said Hertler, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and the game-winning run. “That’s crazy that it happened in back-to-back games. It didn’t bother us — Kevin (Berard) played a great game at second. Hopefully, it keeps going.”
Russell Moldenhauer walked on four pitches to load the bases for Hidalgo, who was 3-for-5 going into the at-bat.
On a full-count pitch from Teague, who had just come in after Moldenhauer’s walk, Hidalgo ripped one into the gap in left-center for his fourth hit of the night and his team’s second straight walk-off victory.
“I was thinking mostly of getting a sacrifice fly,” Hidalgo said through interpreter Juan Sanchez. “I wanted to hit something deep enough to score that winning run.
“I’m so excited right now. It’s not just because of me we won this. It’s because of everyone here working together that we made this happen. But we have to win these last two games. We want to start the playoffs here at home.”
Hertler forced in the Crushers’ first run on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth, while Daniel Bowman scored the tying run on Andrew Davis’ bases-loaded, no-out double-play grounder in the eighth.
Overshadowed by the late-inning heroics was a quality start from ex-Indians farmhand and Fostoria native Alex Kaminsky, who scattered four hits in seven innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
“This second half of the season, he’s pitched very well,” Isom said. “I thought tonight was probably his best start of the season. He commanded pitches in the strike zone. When I made the decision to take him out, he didn’t want to come out. He said he was feeling as good as he’d ever felt this year, and I agreed with him.
“But we wanted to keep his pitches down and keep him rested, because he’s going to be a big part of the playoffs for us.”
Relievers Brad Duffy and Jordan Wellander (4-2) combined to hold the Beach Bums to one hit in the final two innings. Duffy inherited a two-on, no-out scenario in the ninth, but retired three straight batters to send the game into extra innings.
Isom said the goal now is to win today and wrap up the division title and home field advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. However, the pitching rotation is up in the air.
“We’ll celebrate this one tonight, but our goals aren’t finished,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to do something pretty special here, and winning the division title would be a step in that direction.”
PLAYOFF TICKETS ON SALE: The Crushers announced Tuesday that tickets for the playoffs are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased at the All Pro Freight Stadium box office by calling 934-3636, or online by going to www.LakeErieCrushers.com. Ticket prices are as follows: terrace tables ($16 per seat), field box ($5), home box and general admission ($3). The postseason schedule has not been set, but you can visit www.LakeErieCrushers.com to get the latest details.