AVON — On Superhero Night at All Pro Freight Stadium, walks proved to be the Lake Erie Crushers’ Kryptonite.
The Joliet Slammers scored two runs in the top of the 10th without getting a hit, thanks to four walks issued by two Crushers relievers, and Lake Erie couldn’t deliver with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 10th.
Just like that, Lake Erie’s three-game winning streak went away faster than a speeding bullet. Joliet defeated the Crushers 3-1 in front of 2,389 fans Saturday night.
The Crushers fell to 6-8 overall and 3-2 on the homestand. They are 10-2 lifetime against the Slammers.
The 10th inning spoiled what had been a great pitchers’ duel between Lake Erie’s Dave Middendorf and Joliet’s Jacob Sanchez. Sanchez struck out 10 in eight innings, but Middendorf took a 1-0 lead into the eighth before a two-out infield single by Grant DeBruin tied the score on his final pitch.
“It was an outstanding job by Middendorf,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “He got himself into a jam in the sixth but he got out of it thanks to some great defensive plays and had another jam in the fourth that he got out of with a double play. They say a double play is a pitcher’s best friend, and when you’re commanding the fastball and staying down in the zone like he did tonight, you’ll get a few of them.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t scrape a few more runs off their starter early on. But hats off to Sanchez, who I thought threw a tremendous game against us. We couldn’t figure him out. He had a tremendous fastball. Thus far, in the short season we’ve had, he’s been the best pitcher we’ve seen. That’s a quality arm. We got that run across, and I thought that might be enough. But it was a quality pitchers’ duel tonight and, as a manager, I enjoy those pitchers’ duels.”
Middendorf scattered six hits in 7⅔ innings, walking two and striking out four. He lowered his ERA to 2.70.
“It was just one of those days where everything was working well,” Middendorf said. “My off-speed was working. My change-up was working. And I was able to spot up my fastball a few times. It just happened to be that they had a guy who was pretty good, too. A few hits here or there we could have took the lead and gotten a victory, but it happens. I’m just glad I was able to go out there and throw strikes and keep us in the game.”
Three of the walks in the 10th were issued by Ricky Bowen, who made his Crushers debut after being signed Friday afternoon. In fact, Bowen walked all three batters he faced — the latter forcing in the winning run.
Jordan Wellander, who relieved Middendorf in the eighth, began the 10th with a walk to No. 9 hitter Ben Hewitt. He took second on a sacrifice bunt by Marquis Riley, and Isom went to his newcomer.
Bowen walked Nate Wilder, DeBruin and cleanup hitter David Christensen, while also uncorking two wild pitches. Christensen’s bases-loaded walk was his first RBI of the season and ended Bowen’s day.
“I know all three of their runs were scored due to walks, and we keep telling our pitchers that they need to go after guys and avoid those walks in those situations,” Isom said. “We’ve just got to command the baseball a little bit better, especially in the bullpen.
“No innings and three walks, we definitely were hoping for better out of Bowen. But he’s a guy that just needs to be on the mound. He hasn’t pitched a lot this spring, and if you look at his track record, he’s been an outstanding bullpen guy. It’s just one game, but we’re anxious to get him back out there and I’m sure he’s anxious to get back out there as well. The track record proves that he’s a quality pitcher.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135