When minor league playoff scores, including one indicating that the Mud Hens were losing rather decisively at Durham, were flashed on the screen during Wednesday night's Detroit Tigers telecast, play-by-play man Mario Impemba asked, "Who's left at Toledo?"
Well, ain't that the million-dollar question?
Three of the Hens' best position players - including the International League's most valuable player and the MVP of the Triple-A All-Star Game - and two starting pitchers with double-figure win totals were called up by the parent Tigers around about the time major league rosters were expanded on Sept. 1.
Another infielder and another outfielder had departed not long before then, one called up by the Tigers and another traded to Oakland.
The names? MVP Mike
Hessman had 31 home runs and 101 RBI for the Hens. Timo Perez, the all-star MVP, was among IL leaders in hits and runs scored. Starters Virgil Vasquez and Yorman Bazardo had 22 wins between them. Ryan Raburn and Jack Hannahan were key members of two Governor's Cup teams.
So, who is left at Toledo?
Well, nobody now. The Hens' 2007 season was ended by a
5-2 Durham victory last night at Fifth Third Field.
Durham, whose postseason roster was left intact by its parent club, Tampa Bay, got a three-game sweep of the Hens courtesy of ninth-inning home runs by Jon Weber and Evan Longoria, who had two tape-measure shots onto Monroe Street. Those came about 3 hours, 45 minutes after Andres Torres led off the bottom of the first with an inside-the-park home run that figured to give the Hens the spark they needed after two lopsided losses on the road. But there was little offense the rest of the way.
It would be easy for Hens' fans to complain that the Tigers gave Toledo no chance for a championship three-peat. Truth is, there should be no complaint with the parent team. The Tigers were hands-off for as long as they could afford to be.
Two years ago, the Tigers stunk and were content to leave the top Triple-A talent in Toledo, which was starved for a title, after the call-up date. Last season, the Tigers were in the heat of a pennant race but had all the pieces in place and were healthy. Again, Detroit pretty much left its top affiliate alone to chase its own pot of gold.
This time around, the Tigers are desperately trying to stay afloat in a wild-card playoff race at the tail end of a season that has seen their roster riddled with injury after injury. If Toledo's top talent can help flame the embers of Detroit's bid - the Tigers won Wednesday when a Hessman homer sent the game to extra innings and a Perez hit plated the winning run - so be it.
Before the start of the
semifinal series against Durham, Hens manager Mike Rojas felt he still had the makings of a champion based on pitching and defense. Then his staff
surrendered 30 hits in two games in North Carolina and two veteran players made three crucial misplays in the field.
Before Game 3, Rojas said he "still believed" in the players in his clubhouse and in their
ability to fight back. They ran out of fight in the ninth inning after a second rain delay.
They ran out of players about a week ago. But the Tigers put another strong team in Toledo in 2007 and a third straight division championship - the fourth in the last six years - was entered in the books. After all that, Hens fans have no reason, nor right, to criticize the Detroit organization for a short postseason.