AVON — It’s safe to say the late-season magic is back at All Pro Freight Stadium.
Sunday, for the second straight night, the red-hot Lake Erie Crushers not only came from behind, but won a game in their final at-bat.
The Greys were the victim again, as the Crushers made some history with their 6-4 win.
Not only did they extend their franchise-best winning streak to 11, they got win No. 50 on the season and finished off a perfect seven-game homestand.
It’s the fifth straight season the Crushers (50-31) have won 50 games, but the earliest they’ve ever reached that plateau.
Lake Erie improved to 16-1 in August and to 24-6 (.800) since the All-Star break, while increasing their lead in the Frontier League’s East Division to three games after Traverse City’s 5-3 loss to the Schaumberg Boomers on Sunday.
Lake Erie leads the Boomers by a game in the race for the top seed.
“We’re taking it game by game,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “All we’re trying to do is win the game that’s in front of us. There’s nothing we can do about the past and there’s nothing we can do about the future except for that next game. The guys continue to come out here focused and find ways to win.
“As a manager of this club, all I can do is screw it up. I write out the lineup, I put them out there and I sit back and enjoy what I’m watching. These guys play their tails off out there. They care about each other. They care about winning. I don’t have to say a whole lot right now — they’re motivated to win every single night.
“This is one of the hardest working teams I’ve ever been around, and now it’s paying off down the stretch.”
The heroes Sunday were the Nos. 8, 9 and leadoff hitters. Catcher Emmanuel Quiles (3-for-4), shortstop Juan Sanchez (3-for-4) and center fielder Craig Hertler (3-for-5) combined for nine of the Crushers’ 12 hits. And they were responsible for Lake Erie’s game-winning rally in the bottom of the eighth with the score tied at 4.
After reliever Jon Shepard (1-3) retired Anderson Hidalgo and Vincent Mejia to start the eighth, Quiles drilled a single down the left-field line. Sanchez, who raised his average to .235 with his fifth game of three or more hits since July 28, followed with a single up the middle to put runners at the corners for Hertler.
“I’m not only feeling good, but everybody on this team’s feeling good right now,” Sanchez said. “If I don’t hit today, I know another guy will pick it up. But I got it going today.”
Hertler, who has gone 17-for-35 (.485 average) over this 11-game win streak, drilled a 2-0 pitch down the right-field line for a double, scoring Quiles with the game-winning run.
Kevin Berard followed with an RBI single up the middle, scoring Sanchez for an insurance run. Hertler was cut down at the plate from center to end the inning, but the damage was done.
“Craig’s done a lot of good things for us,” Isom said. “He finds ways to get on, and when he does, he puts pressure on the defense with his hustle and speed and head’s up baserunning. He continues to respond when it’s late in the game and there are runners in scoring position, finding ways to get those runs across the plate. That was a big hit late in the game to give us that lead.”
Closer Dale Dickerson earned his 14th save, allowing a leadoff walk but coming back with a popout to short and a double-play grounder to third end it.
Hertler’s hustle put the Crushers on the board in the bottom of the first and set the tone for a two-run inning when, following a fly out to left by Andrew Davis, he sprinted to third when the Greys’ pitcher and third baseman weren’t looking. Pitcher Casey Hidalgo’s throw skipped past the stunned third baseman, and Hertler scored on the play.
“Sometimes the defense will put their head down and walk back, look at the outfield (and) lose focus on the base,” Hertler said. “Right when Davis made that out, I knew I could do something. The third baseman took his glove off and put his head down and walked away from the base and the pitcher was fiddling with the ball, so I just creeped out and took off. By the time they realized it, they threw it away.”
Matt Rein, normally the Crushers’ most reliable starter, struggled all day, and was at his worst in the third inning when a two-out, two-run homer by Mike Micowski — his second blast in as many days — capped a three-run rally to put the Greys on top, 4-2.
But Quiles and Sanchez answered in the bottom of the fourth. After Vincent Mejia was hit by a pitch, Quiles ripped a triple — his first of the season — into the right-field corner to cut the deficit to one.
Sanchez followed with a double to right to tie the game at 4.
“When you combine for six hits out of the eight (and) nine hole, it shows that you can’t sleep on any of these guys,” Isom said. “Everyone from one through nine can find a way to get it done.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie vs. Normal
WHEN: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Corn Crib, Normal, Ill.