LOUISVILLE - The Toledo Mud Hens had a game of sloppy defense and missed opportunities last night in the opening game of an important three-game series.
If that happens again tonight, the Mud Hens might find themselves in second place.
Louisville beat Toledo 4-3 last night before an announced crowd of 6,413 at Louisville Slugger Field. With the loss, Toledo's lead in the International League's West Division slipped to a half-game over the Bats.
“We don't need to give pep talks, we know what's at stake,” said Toledo manager Bruce Fields. “We lost this one, but we'll be back.”
Three times the Mud Hens had runners on first and second base but failed to score.
Toledo designated hitter Ryan Jackson ended the second inning by hitting into a double play. In the fifth inning, Craig Monroe popped out on a foul ball to third. And in the eighth inning, Eric Munson and Derek Nicholson flied out.
“Getting out of that jam in the eighth was as big as anything for us,” said Louisville manager Dave Miley. “It's a game of breaks and we seemed to catch some.”
Louisville pitcher Chris Reitsma (2-0) cruised through the Toledo lineup the first time. Nicholson had Toledo's only hit through its first 10 batters and that was an infield single that ricocheted off Reitsma.
But the Mud Hens caught up to Reitsma in the fourth inning. Jarrod Patterson worked Reitsma to a full count and walked. Off-speed pitches would haunt Reitsma in the inning, as a curve sailed wide of catcher Corky Miller allowing Patterson to advance to second.
Monroe delivered Patterson home with a single to center. After successive fly outs, Reitsma's changeup floated high and Michael Rivera planted it over the left field fence for a 3-1 Mud Hens' lead.
It was Toledo's last offensive highlight.
“We didn't swing the bats like we're capable,” Fields said. “The chances we did get it seemed like we just couldn't get that big hit.”
The spotlight then was on the Mud Hens' defense, which was at times shaky, and finished with two errors.
Louisville picked up a run in the fourth inning, when Kevin Witt reached third base on a double, thanks to a throwing error by Nicholson in right field. Robin Jennings grounded out to first, but drove in Witt.
In the fifth inning, Monroe mistimed his jump on a Gookie Dawkins drive to left field. Dawkins was able to move to third as the ball rolled freely back toward the infield. Patterson made up for it by throwing home on a Ruben Mateo grounder to third, catching Dawkins in a rundown and keeping Toledo ahead 3-2.
The Mud Hens nearly worked through another jam when Louisville had runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth.
Jennings showed bunt on the first pitch. Rivera, noticing Witt took too big of a lead, gunned out the Bats' lead runner at second.
Free to swing away, Jennings drove the next pitch to deep center. Toledo's Andres Torres, who had a rough 0-for-4 outing at the plate, did not make a clean grab. He dropped the ball while Raul Gonzalez motored home and Jennings moved to third. Jason Maxwell's single scored Jennings and gave the Bats a 4-3 lead.
“It seems like we were this close to making plays,” Fields said. “But it didn't happen and that's the beauty of baseball.”
Louisville could not keep its rally going, as Toledo starting pitcher Nate Cornejo (8-6) picked Maxwell off first base. Miller followed with a single to center, but Dawkins struck out.
The Mud Hens need just one win to ensure they leave the three-game series with Louisville in first place. Tonight it will be up to Pat Ahearne (3-2, 2.21) as he is the probable starter against Louisville's Felipe Lira (3-5, 5.45).
The third game of the series is tomorrow night in Louisville.
On Tuesday, the teams will begin a four-game series in Toledo.