Well finally, the real Gateway Grizzlies showed up.
Or at least it felt like the real Grizzlies had finally shown up, when they bashed the ball all over the park, like they had all summer, and got a terrific pitching outing from ace righthander Tim Brown — again, like they had all summer — to defeat the visiting Southern Illinois Miners, 5-2, Tuesday night at GCS Ballpark in Sauget.
Gateway, which had lost 11 of their previous 12 and 17 total games since July 31, ended that string with a win Sunday night and have now won two in a row to move back into a three-way tie with the Miners and the Florence Freedom for the fourth and final Frontier League playoff spot.
The three teams ahead of the Grizzlies, Miners, and Freedom — the Schaumburg Boomers, Lake Erie Crushers, and Traverse City Beach Bums — appear to be locks to make the playoffs, with comfortable leads and only eight games left in the season.
That means Gateway, Southern Illinois, and Florence are battling it out for that final spot, which likely will come down to the final day of the regular season, next Thursday night, September 5.
And Gateway took its first step to making sure that final game will matter by pulling themselves even with Southern Illinois, thanks to a dominate evening at the plate and on the mound on Tuesday.
Center fielder Jon Myers delivered the first big blow of the night, when he clubbed a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole off Southern Illinois starter Matt Crim, to give the Grizzlies an early 3-0 lead.
The blast was Myers’ 21st dinger this season, and moved him back into the Frontier League lead from homers. The three RBIs also gave the St. Peters native and former SLU star a new career-high total of 49 for the season.
That one swing might have been enough for Gateway to win by itself, as Brown (12-3) held the Miners to just two runs (one earned) on six hits over 7 2/3 innings to get the win.
But just in case, Gateway added single runs in the second inning, on a two-out RBI single by shortstop Michael Wing, and in the seventh, on the 15th homer of the year by catcher Landon Hernandez to make sure Brown pitched in complete comfort all night.
When Southern Illinois scored an unearned run and then loaded the bases with two outs against Brown in the eighth inning, the St. Louis native left the game in favor of reliever Richard Barrett, who was able to wriggle out of the jam by getting Miners’ cleanup man Jereme Milons to pop out.
New addition Justin Erasmus pitched a scoreless ninth to get the save — his second in two nights as a Grizzlie, after saving 17 games for the Joliet Slammers earlier this summer — and the small, but loud crowd of 1,286 Gateway fans were able to go home happy that their club was once again in control of its own destiny, with a chance to decide with their own play on the field whether or not they make the playoffs this year.
The Grizzlies and Miners will play Game 2 of their immensely important series Wednesday night at GCS. Rookie Aaron Baker (1-4) will start for Gateway, while Southern Illinois will counter with veteran Blake Nation (10-2).
GATEWAY GRIZZLIES REMAINING SCHEDULE
August 28 vs. Southern Illinois Miners …… 6:35 p.m.
August 29 vs. Southern Illinois Miners …… 6:35 p.m.
August 30 vs. Rockford Aviators …………… 7:05 p.m.
August 31 vs. Rockford Aviators …………… 7:05 p.m.
September 1 vs. Rockford Aviators ……….. 7:05 p.m.
September 3 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.
September 4 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.
September 5 at Southern Illinois Miners …. 7:05 p.m.