Normally, 144-game schedules don't feature “must-win” games in June.
But Mud Hens manager Bruce Fields felt the game last night against Scranton was a must-win situation for his team.
“Every game is important, but this game was very important,” he said. “There's no denying it - we needed a win. We needed a lift.”
The Hens got both a win and a lift, thanks to Shane Loux and Chris Wakeland.
Loux pitched 10 scoreless innings in his second consecutive complete-game shutout. Wakeland slammed an opposite-field home run to lead off the 10th inning and give the Hens a 1-0 victory over the Red Barons before 7,428 fans at Fifth Third Field.
Wakeland's home run was an impressive shot on a night where the ball didn't seem to travel well. He drove a 2-1 sinker by the Red Barons' Steve Woodard just over the left-field fence for his seventh home run of the season.
“I didn't think they would throw me a pitch inside, so I was trying to look for something away,” Wakeland said. “At first I didn't think it was a home run because so many other balls were hit well tonight and didn't go anywhere.”
The homer made a winner of Loux, who followed up a four-hit whitewash of Syracuse last Sunday by keeping another of the IL's better hitting teams off the scoreboard.
Loux didn't walk a batter and allowed only one Red Baron to reach third base. That happened in the fourth when Eric Valent's two-out double moved Marlon Byrd to third.
Loux threw two straight balls to the next batter, Bruce Aven. After a conference with Hens pitching coach Britt Burns, Loux recovered to strike out Aven on three pitches.
“We talked about trying to keep the hamster on the wheel,” Loux said of his meeting with Burns. “He told me to slow down, calm down, and make good pitches.”
Loux did, retiring all but three of the next 17 batters he faced.
But while Loux was mowing down the Red Barons, the Hens were struggling against Scranton starter Eric Junge. Junge didn't allow a Toledo batter to reach third base, giving up just five hits while striking out five in nine innings.
So Fields faced a decision entering the 10th: Should Loux continue? The answer was yes, which pleased Loux.
“I would have told him I felt great, and that my pitch count was low,” said Loux, who had thrown just 103 pitches at that point. “I would have argued until I was blue in the face.”
Loux retired the first two hitters that inning, but reached another crisis point when Jason Knupfer beat out a slow roller to third and P.J. Forbes singled him to second.
Up stepped Chase Utley, a left-handed batter. Lefty Eric Eckenstahler was ready and waiting in the Hens' bullpen.
“I was waiting [for Fields to take me out],” Loux admitted. “I can't say enough about Bruce having faith in me to get that out.”
Fields said a comment from Burns clinched the decision.
“Britt said, `Let's let the kid win it or lose it,'” Fields said. “I agreed. I would have hated to let someone else decide his fate.”
Loux got Utley to ground out to first, setting the stage for Wakeland's homer.
And it closed the book on a day that began with a pre-game team meeting Fields held in left field.
“I just told the guys to relax, stay focused, and keep bearing down,” Fields said. “I told them if they did that, things will change.”
NOTES: Eric Munson missed his third straight game because of back tightness, but was preparing to pinch-hit when Wakeland homered. Andres Torres and Omar Infante also got the day off yesterday; all three will return to the lineup today. ... Among the scouts at the game was Ken Griffey Sr. of Cincinnati.