AVON — When the Schaumburg Boomers brought in a left-handed reliever in the seventh, first-year Crushers manager Chris Mongiardo decided to go with pinch-hitter Ryan Hutchison on Saturday night.
Though it took a couple of innings to pay off, playing Hutchison turned out to be just what the Crushers needed.
Hutchison, a first-year pro from Western Kentucky, cracked an 0-1 pitch from Boomers reliever Clark Labitan over the 400-foot sign in dead-center field in the ninth inning for a walk-off, two-out, solo home run.
The blast, Hutchison’s first as a pro in just his second at-bat, gave the Crushers their first taste of Freight Magic a mere two games into the season with a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the defending league champions in front of 1,006 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“I can’t really take the credit for Hutchison’s home run two innings later,” Mongiardo said. “You’ve got to give that to him. If you want to say it’s a great move, I’ll take it.
“Anytime you can get a win where we’re struggling to score runs and they’re leading 1-0 in the eighth, especially this early in the year, is a great win. And walk-off wins with a home run are always exciting.”
The home run was the Crushers’ first of the season and the first at The Freight this year.
“To have your first pro home run be a walk-off homer is great,” said Hutchison, who went 1-for-2 Saturday night. “Our pitchers kept us in it the whole game and I got the call off the bench and I was ready. Fortunately, I got a good pitch to hit and it went out.”
Hutchison, acquired in the offseason in a trade with ex-Crushers manager Jeff Isom and the Joliet Slammers, had been on Mongiardo’s radar for a few seasons.
“I had a thorough scouting report on Hutchison for two years,” Mongiardo said. “I even knew he was a former tennis player in high school, which helped him get good reads off the bat. My friend is a scout for the San Diego Padres and they drafted him out of Western Kentucky his junior year. Same with (infielder) Adam Ford and our backup catcher (Kevin Franchetti).
“Isom gave me a good scouting report on Hutchison, too. He’s got a lot of pop. That’s why he was drafted after his junior year. He’s got some power potential. It was just a matter waiting to see when it would turn on.”
The Crushers set the stage for Hutchison’s heroics by manufacturing the tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning. With the Crushers down 1-0, No. 9 hitter Juan Sanchez led off with a four-pitch walk. Trevor Stevens bunted Sanchez to second and he scored on Craig Hertler’s line-drive single up the middle.
Hertler, who had half of the Crushers’ hits, went 3-for-4 and is batting .625 (5-for-8) with two runs and two RBIs in the young season.
“They got the 1-0 lead and our bullpen did a great job to keep us right there,” Mongiardo said. “Then we get that great sac bunt by Stevens, followed by that big hit by Craig Hertler in the eighth to tie things up. It was a great pitched game on both sides, so for us to come up with two runs in the final two innings is tremendous.
“A win’s a win, whether it’s the first or second game of the year or the 50th. It’s all good for the long run.”
Connor Whalen, who was a reliever for the Crushers last season, made his starting debut Saturday and threw well, scattering four hits and one walk in five innings, while striking out six. He was lifted after 86 pitches for precautionary reasons.
“Normally, I don’t like to take Whalen out, especially when he’s throwing as good as he was,” Mongiardo said. “If it was later in the year, I would have sent him back out there, no problem. But with this being his first start on a cold night, I decided to play it safe. Plus, I have great confidence in our bullpen.”
With good reason, so far. In two games, the bullpen has combined for no runs and four hits in eight innings. And for the second straight game, Brad Duffy set the tone with a dominating sixth.
“That’s a credit to the pitching coach,” said Mongiardo, who also holds that job, said with a laugh. “It’s great to see these guys come in and do good. All I can do is try to put these guys in at a good spot, and whatever happens after that, happens.
“Duffy set the tone with his 1-2-3 sixth and the rest of the guys just fed off that. Duffy’s been one of my favorite pitchers this year. And Zac Treece (in the eighth) threw the ball well tonight, especially after he struggled it a bit (Friday) night. So that was great to see.”
The late-inning heroics made a winner of closer Jason Wilson (1-0), who gave up a double in the ninth but escaped without any further damage.
“(The bullpen) just kept is in the ball game by putting up zeroes all night,” Hutchison said. “They really gave us a chance to win. We were fortunate enough to string something together in the eighth and then win it in the ninth.”
Former Cleveland Indian Len Barker was on hand to throw out the first pitch and signed autographs for fans along the left-field concourse.
Barker celebrated the 33rd anniversary of his perfect game, which was thrown on May 15, 1981, against the Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Stadium. It is still the last no-hitter thrown by an Indians pitcher.
Crushers assistant coach and former Indian Joe Charboneau was the starting left fielder for the Tribe that day.
* The Frontier League announced it will have Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week awards this season. The first awards will be announced Monday and will be presented every Monday throughout the regular season.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Schaumburg Boomers
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon