AVON — Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Sunday’s game between the Lake Erie Crushers and the Evansville Otters is a prime example.
Not only did the game go 14 innings, last four-and-a-half hours and feature 17 pitchers — including three position players for the Otters — it also included a premature walk-off celebration.
Fortunately for the Crushers, there was also a walk-off celebration that counted. It came when Anderson Hidalgo stroked his team-record sixth hit of the game — a long single off the right-field wall — to give Lake Erie a wild 7-6 win at All Pro Freight Stadium.
But back to that premature walk-off celebration. It also came in the 14th, when the Crushers, trailing by one, thought they had won after umpires sent Joey Burney and Craig Hertler home after an errant throw from third baseman Shayne Houck went into the stands.
Not so fast. The umpires got it wrong and Hertler was sent back to third, leaving the game tied at 6.
When order was restored and the call corrected, Hidalgo provided his game-winning hit and the real celebration ensued.
It was the 10th walk-off win of the season for the Crushers, who have won five straight (all at home) and improved to 38-30.
All in all, a pretty strange game.
“I’ve seen one (position player pitch), but never three,” Crushers manager Chris Mongiardo said. “I’m surprised (Evansville manager Andy McCauley) had three of them who threw that well. I don’t think I have one that can. Those guys threw hard. But I’m not sure how much their bullpen guys were used before.”
Evansville (40-25), which came into the series leading the Frontier League’s East Division but are now in second, spent the last three innings using position players Phillip Wilson, Josh Allen and Jeremy Nowak on the mound.
Allen (0-1), who came on in the 14th, only retired one hitter before allowing the tying run to score on an RBI grounder by Emmanuel Quiles, which turned into Houck’s throwing error. Burney and Hertler, who extended his hitting streak to 13 games — had singles to put runners on the corners for Quiles.
When the ball went out of play, Hertler was barely around second, which meant he should have just been awarded third and not home.
Allen walked Andrew Davis to load the bases, and threw one ball to Hidalgo before leaving the game due to an injury.
Nowak came in from left field and the count went to 3-1 on Hidalgo before he drilled a long fly to deep right. It came inches from being a grand slam, hitting the top of the wall.
“Last year, I had five (hits) in one game, but I’ve never had six,” said Hidalgo through Quiles, who acted as an interpreter. “Every time I go out to play, I play like it’s the playoffs. I tried to play like it was the playoffs and help the team win.”
Hidalgo’s 6-for-8 performance not only raised his average from .247 to .265, but also tied the Frontier League record for most hits in a game.
“I think Hidalgo’s the best hitter in the league, and he had a big day today,” Mongiardo said. “Hopefully, this gets him back on track and gets his average up to .330, where it should be. It’s definitely the team record for most hits, but I think we set a team record for most pitchers in a game.”
The extra innings forced Mongiardo to work deeper than he intended with his bullpen. Regular starters Todd Kibby and Zac Treece (5-3) pitched the final 4⅔ innings, allowing one run on three hits with five strikeouts. Kibby successfully worked out of jams in the 10th and 11th, while Treece’s lone run came after two wild pitches — one on a third strike — in the top of the 14th.
Kibby was scheduled to start today’s game on short rest, but due to his impromptu relief outing, Zach Gordon will make his regular turn in the rotation.
“To go to those two starters and get great outings from both is great,” Mongiardo said. “When you go to one starter out of the bullpen, and especially when you go to two, you want to get the win. You hate to waste those outings and have it not pay off.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Evansville Otters
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
PITCHERS: Gordon (2-2, 2.50 ERA) vs. Olson (5-3, 2.40)