AVON — Down to their last inning, the Lake Erie Crushers channeled some mojo from their inaugural season to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat Saturday night.
And, if they keep playing like this, they may be partying like its 2009 when it’s all said and done.
Coincidentally, it was Andrew Davis — the only remaining player from the 2009 Frontier League championship team — who was the hero once again. Down 0-2 with the bases loaded and nobody out after Craig Hertler’s triple tied the score at 1, Davis hit a hot shot up the middle that just got past the Greys’ diving shortstop for a walkoff single.
The big ninth, in which the Crushers had three hits and two walks and didn’t record an out against Greys closer Bryce Shafer (0-5), turned what had a been a frustrating game into a thrilling 2-1 victory in front of 2,581 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities early, which was frustrating,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said. “But I knew if we’d hang around, we’d give ourselves a chance. We hit into a big double play to end the eighth inning, but down 1-0 we knew we had one last chance. And you saw what happened there — a tremendous way to end a ballgame.”
The win was the Crushers’ 10th straight and also improves them to 6-0 on the current seven-game homestand. They are now a Frontier League-best 49-31 and are in sole possession of first place in the East Division — the first time in franchise history the team has been in first this late in the regular season.
The winning streak ties the franchise’s longest — they won 10 straight from Aug. 2-12 during the 2011 season en route to a 51-44 record and the Crushers’ last playoff berth. They have won 18 of their last 20 and are 23-6 since the All-Star break.
The inning began with the newest Crusher — pinch-hitter Vincent Mejia — and ended with the oldest — Davis. In between, a lot of fortunate things happened to help the Crushers set some franchise history.
Mejia, hitting for No. 9 batter Max Casper, drilled a 1-1 fastball — his first for Lake Erie — to the power alley in left-center that hit the top of the wall and bounced back for a leadoff double.
“The way Mejia’s been hitting in BP and with the numbers he had in the Pecos League, we felt it was the perfect opportunity to put him in and see what could happen,” Isom said. “If indeed we do make the playoffs, we need a guy like that who can come off the bench and deliver a clutch hit. If he keeps swinging the bat like that, he may end up in our lineup.
“Nobody knows him in this league, for the most part, and I’m sure they looked at that .000 average and thought, ‘Let’s go after him.’ I thought we might get a free fastball, and when he got it he hit that one a ton.”
Hertler showed bunt on his first pitch, but wound up swinging away and lined a shot down the right-field line that got hung up in the corner. Pinch-runner Kevin Berard scored to tie the game, and Hertler sped into third for a triple.
“(Hertler’s) picked it up and done a real nice job,” Isom said. “His on-base percentage is over .400 so he’s been finding ways to get on base and make things happen. He’s not just that prototypical leadoff guy — he’s a guy that can also drive in runs. He consistently drives in runs, and that one there was a big one.”
Hertler, who is hitting .277 since he was acquired from the Schaumburg Boomers on July 5, went 2-for-4 to raise his average to .281.
“My thought was to get (Mejia) over any way possible,” Hertler said. “Luckily, the guy hung a curveball that was breaking in to me, and I was not only able to pull it but I got it past the first baseman. After that, I just used my speed. I was thinking triple the whole way so the next guy won’t have to bunt, and it paid off.”
Shafer walked Seth Granger on four pitches and then intentionally walked Daniel Bowman to load the bases for Davis. Greys manager Brett Matheny brought in a fifth infielder to try to set up the force play at the plate.
Unfortunately for the Greys, Davis thwarted that strategy with his single up the middle, touching off a big celebration.
“No. 1, it’s a credit to the guys getting on in front of him,” Isom said. “But No. 2, Davis gets a lot of opportunities. If you want one guy at the plate to get you an RBI, obviously it’s him. He continues to answer the call every time he gets into these key situations.”
Prior to the ninth, the Crushers left 11 runners on base without scoring a single run. They loaded the bases in the first and third with one out and had two on in the sixth and eighth, but couldn’t score against Greys knuckleballer Tom Zeller.
“When he’s on like that, he’s tough,” Isom said. “He settled in and threw a great game. He wasn’t getting behind hitters, for the most part, and he was a buzzsaw. Once they made the change to the bullpen, I thought, ‘Thank goodness.’ I wish they had done that earlier.”
The Crushers had great pitching from starter Jason Wilson and relievers Brad Duffy and Connor Whelan (1-0), who held the Greys to just three hits. A solo home run off Wilson by Mike Micowski in the fifth was the only run until the ninth.
The Crushers reached the 100,000 mark in attendance for the fifth straight season. Or, in other words, the franchise has drawn six figures every season it has existed.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.