AVON — This one hurt.
The Lake Erie Crushers were not only in prime position to take sole possession of second in the Frontier League’s East Division on Thursday night, but they also had the chance to get some breathing room in the wild-card race.
On top of that, they were just two outs away from sweeping the Gateway Grizzlies, extending their winning streak to six and winning their 50th game for the sixth time in their six-year franchise history, when they let it all slip away in a 6-4 loss at All Pro Freight Stadium.
A bloop fly from T.J. Bennett fell between center fielder Trevor Stevens and second baseman Vince Mejia for a double, leading to a three-run Grizzlies rally off Crushers closer Trevor Longfellow.
“Trevor made a good pitch, but the ball fell in,” Crushers manager Chris Mongiardo said. “The tide turned after that.”
The Crushers (49-34) lead Gateway (47-37) by 2½ games for the fourth and final wild-card spot, but they remain a half-game behind the Southern Illinois Miners for first in the East.
Mongiardo was down an arm in the bullpen following Wednesday’s doubleheader, and went to Longfellow earlier than he would have liked.
“I’m a tad short-handed in the pen, and he’s my guy against lefties,” Mongiardo said. “(Jordan) McCoy threw two times (Wednesday), so I didn’t want to overwork him. Maybe he could have gotten (Ben Waldrip in the eighth), maybe he couldn’t. I don’t know if that had anything to do with (Longfellow’s struggles). I thought he was throwing all right.
“Would I rather have had another guy available? Of course. But I needed to save one pitcher.”
Longfellow, who entered with two outs in the eighth with a 4-3 lead, coaxed a foul out to first base by the left-handed Waldrip to end the eighth and a groundout to third to start the ninth.
Things went south fast after that.
Bennett blooped Longfellow’s first pitch to shallow center. Stevens was playing deep and tried to run it down, while Mejia was trying to make a play on it from second. Neither player could catch up to it, and the ball bounced over Stevens’ head for a double.
Pinch-hitter Richard Seigel ripped a 1-2 pitch into center just past Stevens for another double, scoring Bennett with the game-tying run. Then, on the first pitch he saw, leadoff man Michael Johnson lifted a blooper down the left-field line that eluded Adam Ford and rolled all the way to the wall for an RBI triple to give the Grizzlies a 5-4 lead.
Johnson scored an insurance run for Gateway when Longfellow uncorked a wild pitch — one of two runs scored by the Grizzlies on wild pitches.
“He threw a cutter outside to (Seigel) that he got a hold of for a double,” Mongiardo said. “That really was the only hard-hit ball Trevor gave up.”
Andrew Davis drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth, but Gateway closer Richard Barrett struck out Anderson Hidalgo for his 19th save.
Left-hander Andy Roberts, making his third start and first at home, gave up a home run to Johnson on the second pitch of the game. But otherwise, Roberts gave the Crushers an effective 5⅔ innings, scattering four hits and two runs while striking out three.
But with his team leading 4-2 and after Roberts retired the first two hitters in the sixth, Mongiardo went to reliever Brandon Smith, who promptly gave up back-to-back singles and a walk. On ball four, Smith uncorked a wild pitch and Michael Wing scored from third to cut the deficit to 4-3.
“He’s thrown good every time out,” Mongiardo said of Roberts. “He ran out of gas a little bit there in the sixth.”
Ryan Hutchison got the Crushers’ offense going with a tape-measure solo home run to dead center off Grizzlies starter Ja’Vaun West to lead off the third.
It was his eighth homer of the season. The Crushers took the lead later in the inning on a sacrifice fly to center by Stevens, following singles by Ford and Juan Sanchez.
The Crushers tacked on two more in the fifth, breaking a 2-2 tie. A dropped throw by Waldrip at first on a Stevens grounder kick-started the rally, which was punctuated by a two-run single by Vince Mejia.
“(West) threw a good game,” Mongiardo said. “We just couldn’t get to him late. That’s their No. 1 guy and we just didn’t get to him.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie vs. River City
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
PITCHERS: Gordon (3-3, 3.83 ERA) vs. Mendoza (6-3, 3.20)