AVON — Looking for a local-boy-makes-good story? Look to the Lake Erie Crushers.
Needing just one win in their final two games to wrap up the first East Division championship in the five-year history of the franchise, the Crushers turned to Vermilion’s own Adam Beach.
And he delivered.
Coupled with some big offense in the first two innings, Beach cruised through five innings of three-hit ball as the Crushers clinched the division title — and the No. 2 seed in the Frontier League playoffs — with a 5-1 win over the Traverse City Beach Bums at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“I thought he pitched pretty darn well,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “He went out and gave us five quality innings, and I’m very proud of him. He’s come along well as a pitcher since we signed him. We hadn’t used him a whole lot down the stretch, but to his credit … when the opportunity came, he went out and gave it his best.
“He took advantage of a great situation and helped us lock down home-field advantage with the East Division championship. That was a big performance by him. Gutsy.”
Isom, who was given a shaving cream pie to the face and a Gatorade bath on the field as the team showered themselves with champagne, led the Crushers to their first division title in his first year as manager.
“It’s a pretty good feeling knowing that all the hard work we put in during the offseason to put this team together and the stuff that we’ve done during the season with the guys has paid off,” Isom said. “We had a plan from Day 1 on how we were going to accomplish this, and we stuck with that plan, and the results speak for themselves.”
Beach (3-1), who was working in an office this summer before the Crushers signed him, hadn’t started a game since Aug. 7 and had only made two relief appearances since — the last one Aug. 27. If he was rusty, he didn’t show it.
“I was always telling myself that I’d be ready as soon as they called my name,” said Beach, who struck out two, walked two and lowered his ERA to 4.08. “My parents and my friends were always asking me, ‘When are you pitching?’ and I never knew for sure.
But I didn’t care whether I was starting or relieving or what the score was, I was excited to go out and pitch.
“I was just talking to my family outside, and they asked me if I was still happy I left (my office job), and I couldn’t be any more happy now that I made that decision. To be a part of this team and this division championship, getting to celebrate with the champagne, that’s something not many people experience. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d experience it. It was awesome.”
Beach’s last pitch was the most memorable. With runners on second and third with one out, Beach got Carlo Testa to ground back to the mound. Beach saw Marcus Nidiffer too far off third and fired to the plate. Emmanuel Quiles ran Nidiffer all the way back to third, where Scott Woodward was standing. Quiles tagged both runners. Nidiffer was called safe and Woodward out for occupying Nidiffer’s base.
But Nidiffer walked off the base, and Quiles ran over and tagged him out for one of the most unique double plays in baseball, ending the inning with the Crushers still up, 4-1.
“When I got the ball, I ran to third base and (third baseman Anderson) Hidalgo told me, ‘Tag the guy,’” Quiles said. “So I tagged the guy and the other guy started to walk out. And both Hidalgo and (Juan) Sanchez yelled to me, ‘Tag the other guy.’
That was the key play of the game.
“What was funny was they were all yelling to me in Spanish, so no one understood us. Us three are all very close friends and I couldn’t have done it without their help.”
Lake Erie carried that momentum to the bottom of the fifth where Daniel Bowman led off with a double off the top of the left-field fence, took third on Moldenhauer’s fly out to center and scored on Hidalgo’s RBI single to make it 5-1.
Hidalgo, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, has gone 6-for-9 in the series with three RBIs, and his two-out RBI double in the first inning helped give the Crushers a tone-setting 2-0 lead.
“I concentrated today because today was a special day for me,” said Hidalgo through Quiles, who played interpreter. “I wanted to make the playoffs and win the division, and I’ve been thinking about that all day. I tried to make the team win tonight.”
The first-round playoff schedule has been set. The Crushers will host the Beach Bums in Games 1 and 2 at All Pro Freight Stadium. Game 1 (Dave Middendorf vs. Scott Dunn) will be Saturday at 7:05 p.m., while Game 2 (Matt Rein vs. Johnny Omahen) will be Sunday at 5:05 p.m. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will be at Traverse City on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., while Game 5 (if necessary) will be at The Freight next Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
WHO: Lake Erie vs. Traverse City
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM
* The Crushers will host the Beach Bums in the first two games of the playoffs, Saturday at 7:05 and Sunday at 5:05