By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Forget about home plate or third base, even second base seemed like a mirage to the Lake Erie Crushers on Tuesday night.
Nobody in the Crushers lineup was able to get beyond first, shut down for six innings by Traverse City starter Mike Devine and over the final three innings by reliever Matt Miller in a 5-0 victory at Wuerfel Park that gave the Beach Bums a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Frontier League Division playoff series.
“I didn’t even realize that,” said Devine, when told that first base was the farthest on the base paths the Crushers were able to get in Game 3. “Sometimes you like to work with guys on second. It was nice working ahead without guys on base.”
Devine allowed four hits, walked none and struck out six. Each of the hits he allowed were singles. Two of those runners were left stranded on first, one was caught stealing by Beach Bums catcher Marcus Nidiffer and two were thrown out on the way to second — the result of two Beach Bums’ double plays.
“He threw exceptionally well,” said Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn. “He never had a runner reach second base. That’s hard to do. They’re such a good team.
“He’s pitched better at the right time of the year, no doubt about it. His last two starts have kind of been what we’ve been waiting for all year. I told him after the outing, he threw his pitches with more conviction.”
Devine provided a favorable sign of what was to come when he struck out five of the first seven batters he faced. He wasn’t able to continue at that pace, but he was in control of the game the entire time.
“I think it was a big boost just trying to get into the game and throw strikes,” said Devine. “I was just trying to get the ball over the plate and let the defense work and good things happened. I felt normal. Just try to come with the same approach, fill it up and make them earn their way on.”
Traverse City scored runs in each of the first two innings, but also stranded six on base in the first three innings. The Beach Bums made it a 3-0 game in the fifth on an RBI single by Chase Burch that scored Jose Vargas. Lake Erie starter Alex Kaminsky took the loss after he scattered eight hits, walked two and fanned five.
“I was a little nervous there early,” said Langbehn. “We let (Kaminsky) off the hook. As well as we hit the ball. I thought we had some really good at bats. We had some hard outs at people. We didn’t get the separation that you really want. You want to jump on teams early.”
The Beach Bums made their manager a little more at ease when they added two more runs on back-to-back home runs in the seventh by Vargas and Burch, with both crushing balls well over the fence in left. Vargas, who had two doubles and the home run while going 3-for-4, also drove in Traverse City’s first run, scoring Carlo Testa. Burch was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Ryan Still brought in the run in the second on a fly out to right that scored Sean Gusrang.
Miller allowed only one hit out of the bullpen, a single to the first batter he faced, Daniel Bowman, but retired the next eight in order. Bowman and Max Casper each had two hits to lead the Crushers.
No one on the Beach Bums was understating the importance of the victory, which allows them the chance to close out the series tonight when Jake Sabol heads to the mound to start Game 4 at Wuerfel Park.
“It’s the swing game of the series and we’ve got (tonight) at home. I think everyone’s aware of what’s at stake,” said Langbehn. “The opportunity to close out a series at home always beats the alternative of going back and playing at their place. If we win, awesome. But if we don’t, we’ve got to go back there. It’s just that simple. I think they understand what’s going on.”