AVON - The Lake Erie Crushers welcomed the 400,000th fan in the franchise's three-year history Friday, then put on a show deserving of the occasion.
With the Crushers back in the playoff hunt and about to open a big six-game homestand, they picked the perfect time to put together one of their most complete performances of the season.
Lake Erie battered Evansville pitching to the tune of 13 runs on 17 hits Friday night and, coupled with another solid outing from Paul Fagan, rolled to a 13-2 victory in front of 3,620 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The win - the Crushers' fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games - puts them only one game under .500 mark for the first time since June 3.
With losses suffered by Windy City (35-35) and Traverse City (36-34), the Crushers (34-35) are only a game-and-a-half out of the wild-card spot in the Frontier League's East Division.
"If we're going to get back into this race, we've got to get some consistency and start winning some games and winning some series, putting a streak together," Crushers manager John Massarelli said. "We played real well in Florence, and it carried over tonight. With this six-game homestand, we've got to have a big week.
"We were able to get to their starter (Matt Zielinski) early and often, and it's nice to have a game like that. But it's one game, and we come back tomorrow and play another."
A win today puts the Crushers at .500 for the first time since June 2. They've never been over-.500 this season.
"I can remember when Evansville - I think it was 2006 - won the whole league and they got into the playoffs with an under-.500 record," Massarelli said. "Stranger things have happened.
"There's a lot of baseball to be played. It's important for us to have a big week at home before some big series down the stretch - two with Traverse City and one more with Joliet. We want to be in the thick of it and not out of it and treading uphill when we get to those series."
The Crushers scored a run in all but the fifth and the eighth innings. Every starter except Patrick Norris had at least one hit, and every starter except Jodam Rivera and Evan Sharpley had at least one RBI.
Already leading 8-2, the Crushers sent all nine men to the plate in the seventh and scored five runs to blow the game wide open.
The Nos. 8 and 9 hitters - rookies Brian Erie and Robby Kuzdale - went 7-for-8 with four runs and two RBIs. Factor in No. 7 hitter Evan Sharpley's 2-for-3 performance and the bottom third of the order went 9-for-11 with six runs and two RBIs.
"That's always a difference in this league when you can have rookies make impacts," Massarelli said. "Both of those guys, with Brian coming in at the half, have made an impact for us. Brian brought a good bat with him when Joel Collins went down, and he's done a nice job behind the plate for a young guy.
"Kuz, who was injured early, it's been good to see him come back like he has."
Erie, who joined the team shortly after the All-Star break as a replacement for the injured Joel Collins, is batting .483. He also threw out all three Evansville would-be base stealers.
"I had a couple 4-for-4 performances in college (at Northern Kentucky), but nothing like this," he said. "Things were just going my way today. The guys at the top of the order do their jobs and the guys in the back have to pick up the slack. Today, we were able to do that."
Jason Taylor picked a good time for his first home run at The Freight all season, blasting a solo shot in the third for his fourth of the year. The blast highlighted a 2-for-4 day with three RBIs.
"We came out swinging the bats really well," Taylor said. "Fagan came out and got ahead early, and once you start getting a rhythm out there and the defense is going and the pitching's good, it's easy for us hitters to come in and swing the bat well. From top-to-bottom today, we got it done."
While the bats battered Evansville pitching, it was the pitching of Fagan that most impressed Massarelli.
Fagan had a four-hit shutout going through six innings. He wound up allowing two runs on seven hits in seven innings with two walks and a strikeout.
"I'm mostly pleased with Paul Fagan," Massarelli said. "He was coming off a couple of rough starts where he gave up runs early, but kept us in the game. It was good to see him do well and also go that extra inning for us."
Added Fagan, who improved to 5-7: "I felt a lot better than my last outing. I came in with a better gameplan, I think. I didn't know anything about (Evansville), but I just trusted my stuff. I was getting tired toward the end of the game and left some pitches up. It happens. But we were swinging it tonight.
"We had a lot of confidence coming in from our last two series. We're starting to put together to make a playoff push."
Davis, whose 38-game on-base streak ended Thursday, picked up where he left off with a 3-for-4 performance with a team-high four RBIs. Leadoff hitter Jereme Milons went 1-for-3 with two RBIs for the Crushers.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Log on to www.chroniclet.com/freebees for a weekly chance to win free Crushers tickets.
• WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Evansville Otters
• TIME: 7:05
• WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
• PITCHERS: Sturgill (5-1, 2.87 ERA) vs. Barry (2-5, 5.10)