AVON — After seven straight losses and not scoring for 20 innings, the weight on the collective shoulders of the Lake Erie Crushers had to feel like a ton.
Add five errors and perhaps the worst inning of defensive baseball the Crushers have played all year, and loss No. 8 straight seemed inevitable.
But a tying two-run home run in the seventh inning off the bat of Doug Tremble and an RBI single in the eighth from Dane Hutcheon sent the 1,881 faithful Crushers fans into the All-Star break happy with an 8-7 win over Florence on Sunday.
The win gave Lake Erie a 26-24 record at the break, three games behind East Division-leading Washington.
“I was struggling the last couple at-bats,” said Tremble, who is hitting .191. “Just not seeing the ball well. I tried to keep it simple and see a ball up (in the strike zone) that I could do damage with.”
It didn’t take Lake Erie long to break the scoreless stretch that dated to Wednesday against Evansville. Aaron Hill led off the first with a single to right, followed by Hutcheon’s single to left and Kewby Meyer’s double. All three scored, thanks to an error and a sacrifice fly by Tyler Cowles, to give the Crushers the early advantage.
“Every game as the leadoff guy you want to get on base,” Hill said. “When I get on base, good things happen. When you get started like that, it always takes the weight off.”
Lake Erie led 4-0 after three innings behind the one-hit pitching of newly acquired Micah Beyer, who was signed Thursday. Doubles from Cowles and Bryan De La Rosa got the fourth run across. All appeared well in Sprenger Stadium.
Not so fast, my friends.
Florence bounced off the carpet thanks to the generosity of the Crushers defense. It scored once in the fourth inning off Tremble’s dropped fly in right that put Jacob Wark on third base with two outs. Wark scored when Xavier Turner scooted a shot past the glove of Hutcheon, who was charged with an error.
Then in the sixth, the Freedom dropped a six-run salvo on Lake Erie with two more errors priming the pump. When the dust cleared, Florence was in front 7-4. The Crushers were charged with five errors, three by Hutcheon at third.
“We don’t even deserve to win a game when you make five errors,” said manager Cam Roth, who was ejected in the seventh inning for questioning balls and strikes. “It’s freaking tough to win. You just have to say hat’s off to those guys for persevering and not accepting defeat.”
Instead of getting ready to pack for the All-Star break, the Crushers dusted themselves off and came back with a run in the sixth, two in the seventh and the winner in the eighth.
Dalton Wheat was hit with a pitch to lead off the sixth, advanced to second on a groundout, stole third and scored on Hill’s double to deep left. Tremble’s no-doubt-about-it homer — his third of the year — to deep left tied the game.
After Cowles struck out looking, Roth argued the point and was tossed, but it might have lit the fire for the final rally. Hutcheon’s clutch two-out single in the eighth inning scored De La Rosa, who opened the inning with his second double.
Closer Justin Sinibaldi allowed two hits in the ninth but kept the plate clean in picking up his 10th save, but it took a terrific relay throw by Hill to nail Caleb Lobes at home for the second out. Sinibaldi struck out Wark on three pitches to end the game and the skid.
Hill, Hutcheon and Sean Renzi will represent the Crushers at the Frontier League All-Star Game in O’Fallon, Mo., on Wednesday.
Hill, a shortstop batting .302, and Hutcheon, a third baseman hitting .317, will be on the Rookie team. Right-handed pitcher Renzi (5-3, 3.41 ERA) will be on the Experienced team.
Veteran outfielder Sean Hurley will complete his two-week suspension and be ready to return to the Crushers after the All-Star break. Hurley was suspended for violating team rules.