Chad Alexander watched carefully as Richmond's John Foster worked to the first two Mud Hen batters of the 10th inning.
“I saw he threw a lot of change-ups, so I wasn't surprised when he started me out with two change-ups,” said Alexander of his two-out at-bat against Foster.
“Then he threw me a curve at 2-0, and I wasn't expecting that. But then I got a pitch I could drive.”
And drive it Alexander did. The Hens' outfielder launched a long home run that hit the scoreboard in left, landing in the netting suspended above the E for errors.
But it's no mistake: Toledo's 2-1 victory over the Braves, coupled with a Louisville loss at Pawtucket, moved the Hens in front of the Bats into first place in the International League's West Division.
It's the latest point in a season that the Hens have been in first place since 1969, when Toledo held the lead as late as Aug. 2.
“We don't worry about that,” Alexander said of the race for first with Louisville. “If we play hard that stuff will take care of itself.”
The only surprising thing about yesterday's game was that a pitcher's duel was decided by a home run.
While the two teams did combine for 17 hits, Alexander's bomb was one of only two hits that went for extra bases as both teams were forced to scramble to score runs.
The Hens scratched out an unearned run in the second off Richmond starter Doug Linton. Craig Monroe lined a single to center, but the ball went under Damon Hollins' glove and rolled to the fence, allowing Monroe to reach third.
He scored when the next batter, Chris Wakeland, grounded out to second.
Toledo had a chance to score in the fourth when Ryan Jackson led off with a double and Monroe followed with a single to right-center. Jackson, who hesitated before running, was thrown out at the plate by Hollins.
“If you're on second base, you have to be aware of where the outfielders are playing,” said Hens manager Bruce Fields. “Ryan hesitated, but I still had to send him because only a perfect throw gets him at the plate. If you know where the outfielders are positioned, you score easily.”
Meanwhile Hens starter Pat Ahearne kept the Braves scoreless through the first five innings, using double-play grounders to escape jams in both the second and third.
But in the sixth Marcus Giles led off with a single, then moved to third on a one-out single by Ozzie Timmons. Giles came home on an RBI single by Mike Hessman, but Ahearne coaxed Mark DeRosa to hit into an inning-ending double play.
That was it for the scoring until Alexander's home run, which gave Toledo its third win in a row and fifth in the last seven games.
Ahearne allowed nine hits in seven innings of work, with Jamie Walker retiring six of the seven batters he faced and Franklyn German earning the win with a scoreless 10th inning. They were matched by Linton, who retired the last 11 batters he faced and surrendered just six hits in eight innings.
NOTE: Brian Rios left the game after straining his groin, an injury not related to the back problems that forced him out of the lineup earlier in the week. His status is day-to-day ... The Hens had lost five of the six games that went into extra innings before yesterday ... Toledo played error-free ball yesterday and was errorless in the four-game series with the Braves ... Ahearne has given up just two earned runs in 20 innings with the Hens ... Yesterday's win gave Toledo its first home series win over Richmond since sweeping three games from the Braves May 22-24, 1999. Since that series, Richmond has won 15 of the 21 games the teams have played here.