By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Frontier Greys are supposedly the Frontier League’s weak sister.
Don’t tell Traverse City that.
The Greys own a 28-49 record after Wednesday’s 5-3 win at Wuerfel Park to give them a 6-5 record this season against the first-place Beach Bums.
“We come in here, we look at the standings and they’re in first place every time,” Greys manager Brent Metheny said. “I tell the guys, ‘Hey, we’re 2-1 against these guys. We’re 5-4 against these guys, and they have the best record in the league.’ We can play with anybody. ... I think we match up well against them for whatever reason. Everybody can look at our record and say we’re the worst team in the league or whatever, but I think if you dig a little deeper, you see that we’ve lost 15 one-run games and eight in extra innings, being the visiting team every time.”
The loss dropped Traverse City (46-31) into a tie atop the East Division with Lake Erie. Meanwhile, the Crushers won their seventh straight game — 7-5 over Washington — to move into a tie atop the East Division.
Of course, it didn’t help any that the Beach Bums couldn’t seem to get out of their own way on the base paths — either by chance or mistake.
“I wouldn’t call it not catching a break,” Bums manager Gregg Langbehn said. “I’d call it a lot of other things. When you play that poor mentally and physically, you don’t deserve to win.”
In the sixth, Chase Burch singled and then was caught making a wide turn at first for the inning’s second out. Carlo Testa followed with a double that could have scored Burch.
In the fourth, Zach Kometani doubled, but was tagged out at third trying to advance on Sean Gusrang’s fielder’s choice.
And then in the eighth — an inning in which the Bums would end up tying the game 3-3 — all three TC outs came on the bases. With Ryan Still on first, Frontier third baseman Eric Avila dropped a high Matt Howard pop-up to the mound and fired to second to get Still. Not long after, Howard was then thrown out at second trying to steal his second base of the day.
“It’s mistakes that sometimes go past and the defense doesn’t capitalize on,” Metheny said. “And they made a couple mistakes and we were ready for it. Burch running a little past first base there was big. And then the caught stealing was huge, because they ended up scoring two after that.”
The Beach Bums knotted things up in the bottom of the eighth on two-out RBI singles by Testa and Kometani, who each had two of TC’s eight hits. After his hit, Kometani was caught between first and second in an attempt to allow Testa to score from third, but the Greys were able to throw home and get Testa in a run-down of his own to end the inning tied at three runs apiece.
The Greys quickly took the lead in the ninth, starting with back-to-back bunt singles by the bottom two batters in the order, Ryan Kiesel and Brock McCallister. Kyle Teague enticed Alvaro Ramirez into a pop-out and was replaced by Chris Squires, who promptly struck out Austin Vasquez, but Avila was able to push a bloop single into right field for two RBIs before Marcus Nidiffer gunned him down trying to advance to second.
“Kiesel did it on his own,” Metheny said. “That’s part of his game. He’s a smaller, slap kind of guy. ... He just put down a good bunt. Brock had the bunt sign and happened to put it in a good spot. I think the pitcher and first baseman got a little mixed up with who was going to cover it and he got on.”
Those two runs came off Jon Shepard, who has the Greys best ERA by far at 1.62. Starting pitcher Mark Pope has the next best at 3.55.
Closer Bryce Shafer came on to strike out all three batters he faced in the ninth to wrap it up, with Shepard (1-2) picking up the win.
The Greys took a 2-0 lead — scoring single runs in each of the first two innings — before the Beach Bums put a score on the board with Gusrang’s line drive through the right side of the infield to plate Carlo Testa, who earlier stole his team-leading 27th base in 53 games.
“I was really pleased with how our hitters didn’t just drop their heads like it was just another typical day in Greys baseball,” Metheny said. “They came right back and fought for us.”
Greys have a double in each of first three innings
Despite an almost 2-to-1 rate of strikes to balls, Sabol labored through the first three inning, logging 57 throws in the process. Back-to-back hits by Blake Bergeron and Mark Micowski to start off the third and take a 3-1 lead.
Sabol’s night ended with six innings, 10 hits, three runs and no strikeouts.
“He got through it,” Langbehn said. “Just too many pitches elevated early. He pitched better in his latter innings.”
Teague (2-3) came on in the seventh, walking the first batter on four straight pitches, but getting out of the frame facing the minimum batters as Bergeron popped up to the mound and Teague caught Justin Vasquez off the bag at first for an inning-ending double play.
Pope exited after 6.2 frames with five hits and one run allowed, striking out two.
Ben Rawding makes his second Beach Bums start tonight in the series finale.