AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers entered their final regular-season homestand — against the East Division-leading Joliet Slammers, who are managed and coached by former Crushers skippers Jeff Isom and Chris Mongiardo — with a chance at a playoff berth still intact.
On Tuesday, the Crushers kept those playoff dreams alive by beating the Slammers 4-3 in front of just 726 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium, blowing a two-run lead in the top of the eighth but scoring the winning run in the bottom half of the inning.
The Crushers (45-46) have won six out of their last seven games, and are three games out of the final wild-card spot with five games left in the season. It was also their fourth straight win over the Slammers (49-42).
“All these guys know what we’re doing and know what we’re chasing,” Crushers manager Cameron Roth said.
“If we can bring that energy like we did tonight, then we’ll have a pretty good chance at doing whatever we need to do, whether it’s five games and that’s it or five games and more.
“It just shows how strong and how mentally tough these guys are. All 23 guys are going to play a role in this, and that’s refreshing to see and that’s something you don’t see often.”
Lake Erie starter Juan Caballero (4-1) scattered four hits and three runs (two earned) in eight innings, walking one and striking out three.
“Juan Caballero was the man tonight,” Roth said. “This is the best I’ve seen him look since we got here. He was aggressive. He pitched off his fastball. He went after hitters. He made a small adjustment out of the bullpen earlier in the week, and it paid off tonight.
“He’s been good for us all season, and most of the time, it was his pitch count that kept him from going deep in games.”
Caballero gave up a run in the fourth following a two-out error by second baseman Max Casper and was touched up for two runs in the eighth after allowing a single and a double to lead off, followed by back-to-back sacrifice flies by Alfredo Rodriguez and Marc Flores.
“My goal today was to stay ahead of the hitters and keep the damage to a minimum,” Caballero said. “I wanted to pitch deep in the game, too. I did well, until the last inning. I’m happy that Cam trusted me to go out and go deep in the game.”
Roth wasn’t too hard on Casper following the error.
“I’ve been watching Max Casper for five years, and I told him afterward that he’s allowed one of those every five years,” he said. “That kid is as locked in as anybody. You hit him 100 more balls like that one and he’ll field 100 of them. That just shows how mentally tough he is.”
The two-run eighth turned a 3-1 lead into a 3-all tie, but Lake Erie went to work off former Crushers pitcher Brent Choban (4-8), who had given up a run in the seventh.
Richard Seigel led off with a double to right-center, Casper bunted Seigel to third and Seigel scored on a sacrifice fly by Bryan De La Rosa. The fly was to medium left, but Seigel was sent immediately and beat the throw home by a second.
The Crushers used a single from Robb Paller, who went 3-for-4 to pace the offense, and a groundout from Brandon Costantino to score two runs in the third off Joliet starter Shane Bryant, and a two-out single from Barraza in the bottom of the seventh made it a 3-1 Crushers lead.
Lake Erie was held to six hits by Bryant and Choban, but the hits did enough damage to pick up the much-needed win. Closer Chandler Jagodzinski gave up a two-out double, but nothing else in the ninth to pick up his 14th save.
“Jagodzinski’s got ice in his veins,” Roth said. “He knows when to start stretching. He knows we have confidence in him. He knows those guys in the field have confidence in him when he takes the mound. And we know the confidence he has in himself, and it shows. That double didn’t even faze him.”
With an average of 1,695 fans and 71,174 fans total, the Crushers are last in the Frontier League in attendance for the first time in their eight-year history.
They have five more games to pass last year’s total of 86,155, which had been the lowest attendance figure in team history.
** The Crushers are going to change their logo and colors next season, according to several team sources. Game-worn pinstripe and road gray sleeveless jerseys are being sold in the team shop, and the home red jerseys will be auctioned off following Sunday’s game.
Lake Erie 4, Joliet 3
Joliet Lake Erie
ab r h bi ab r h bi
A. Rodriguez 3 0 0 1 Paller 4 0 3 1
Flores 4 0 0 1 Costantino 4 0 0 1
Gronsky 4 0 0 0 Oliver 2 1 0 0
Bell 3 0 0 0 Barraza 4 0 1 1
Garza 4 1 1 0 Grabe 4 0 1 0
Zalewski 4 0 1 1 Seigel 3 1 1 0
M.Rodriguez 4 0 0 0 Casper 3 0 0 0
Fletcher 3 1 2 0 De La Rosa 1 1 0 1
Bates 2 1 1 0 Norris 2 1 0 0
Hurley 1 0 0 0
Totals 31 3 5 2 Totals 28 4 6 4
Joliet 000 100 020 — 3 5 1
Lake Erie 002 000 11x — 4 6 2
LOB — Joliet 4, Lake Erie 8. DP — Joliet 1, Lake Erie 1. 2B — Garza (4), Zalewski (5), Bates (7), Seigel (15). RBI — A. Rodriguez (28), Flores (62), Paller (15), Costantino (27), Barraza (52), De La Rosa (29). SF — A. Rodriguez (6), De La Rosa (4). SAC — Casper. SB — Oliver (18). CS — Grabe (1). E — Gronsky (15), Grabe (10), Casper (12).
IP H R ER BB SO
Bryant 6 3 2 2 5 7
Choban (L, 4-8) 2 3 2 2 1 1
Caballero (W, 4-1) 8 4 3 2 1 3
Jagodzinski (S, 14) 1 1 0 0 0 1
HBP — Bates (by Caballero). WP — Bryant (3). PB — Fletcher.
T — 2:32. A — 726.