AVON — Two batters into Saturday’s game, Crushers starting pitcher Dave Middendorf took a line drive from Matt Howard off his pitching forearm.
Middendorf caught the ball and stayed in the game. However, he clearly wasn’t the same.
Middendorf gave up two solo home runs and three runs in less than five innings. Meanwhile, Traverse City ace Scott Dunn combined with Matt Miller on a seven-hit shutout as the Beach Bums drew first blood in the Frontier League Divisional Series with an 8-0 victory in front of 1,133 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“I know it sure didn’t help,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said of Middendorf’s misfortune. “That was a smoked ball and I’m surprised he caught it. It hit him right in his pitching forearm, and those are always scary situations. Fortunately, it hit meat, but it affected him. He tried to battle through. To his credit, he worked his butt off out there and did whatever he could.
“(Pitching coach) Chris (Mongiardo) and I talked and we felt his stuff wasn’t as sharp as what it was before. When you’ve got a forearm that’s tightening up on you, I can understand why. You get down 3-0 against a club like that, which has some pretty good pitching, you back yourself in a corner.”
Dunn (15-1 regular season) improved to 3-0 against the Crushers this year and 5-0 lifetime with 6⅔ solid innings. But his getting out of a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the second may have been the key to the game.
Anderson Hidalgo, who has been torrid over the last few weeks, kick-started what would be a 3-for-4 night with a leadoff single. He was thrown out on a fielder’s choice grounder to second by Andrew Davis, but Juan Sanchez followed with a double to put runners in scoring position with one out.
However, Dunn came back and coaxed Emmanuel Quiles to pop out to second and Max Casper ground out to short to end the inning.
Dunn retired 12 straight hitters after that and held the Crushers to just three hits over the first six innings.
“We had opportunities on the offensive side, and we didn’t take advantage of them,” Isom said. “I thought we had Dunn against the ropes a couple of times, but we just couldn’t get anything done off of him. We were missing that big hit, that key hit, which could have broken the game open our way.”
Dunn’s only regular-season loss was 9-4 at Schaumburg on Aug. 17. Though he had only one win in his last four starts, he pitched in midseason form Saturday night.
The Crushers threatened again in the bottom of the seventh. Trailing 5-0, they loaded the bases on singles by Hidalgo and Sanchez and a two-out hit-by-pitch to pinch hitter Kevin Berard. But leadoff hitter Craig Hertler, who had been a key force in the Crushers’ lineup down the stretch, struck out looking against Miller, who had just come on in relief.
“It’s a momentum thing at that point,” Isom said. “We’re down 1-0 in the second and all of a sudden, we don’t take advantage of a big situation. They say, ‘Hey, we got through that one.’ They started getting the momentum at that point and started picking up some runs. We weren’t able to get that momentum away from them and get it on our side tonight.”
Middendorf, who was 12-7 in the regular season with three shutouts, allowed six hits and three runs in 4⅓ innings, striking out four. His relievers didn’t provide very much relief Saturday night, either, as Mickey Jannis, Connor Whelan and Brad Duffy combined to allow five runs on seven hits in 4⅔ innings.
“They’ve got to come out there and get ahead of hitters,” Isom said. “We had a few walks there and worked behind counts and we gave up a couple of two-hit innings. We’ve just got to refocus and get it back where it needs to be.
“Mickey walking three guys, that’s not him, for sure. We’ve just got to get back to throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters and put them away.”
The Beach Bums, the third-worst hitting team during the regular season, combined to score just five runs in dropping 2-of-3 to the Crushers earlier this week, but blew that total away in just nine postseason innings.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Lake Erie vs. Traverse City
WHAT: Game 2, best-of-five Frontier League playoff series; Traverse City leads, 1-0
WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
PITCHERS: Matt Rein (8-6, 2.39 ERA) vs. Johnny Omahen (8-9, 3.55)
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM