COLUMBUS - For six innings, the Mud Hens dodged base-hit bullets from Columbus. But eventually the Hens got clipped.
Columbus broke through for three seventh-inning runs to hand the Hens a 6-5 loss last night at Cooper Stadium.
But the Toledo dodged the biggest bullet of the night when Indianapolis scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie Louisville, then added a run in the 13th inning to win 4-3.
As a result the Hens remain one game ahead of Louisville in the IL's West Division with three games left for both teams.
“Now it's a three-game season, and we can still decide our own fate,” Hens manager Bruce Fields said. “But we obviously have to pitch better to win.”
Starter Nate Cornejo and three Mud Hen relievers combined to allow 18 hits, tying the season high by an opponent. Through the first six frames Columbus had collected 13 of those hits, all against Cornejo, yet still trailed 4-3, because the Hens used several fine defensive plays to choke off Clipper rallies.
Columbus scored twice in the third when Robert Perez doubled down the left-field line to score Drew Henson and Billy McMillon. But the damage could have been worse; Craig Monroe threw a strike to home plate to nail Kary Bridges at home on McMillon's single, and catcher Mike Rivera threw a rocket from his knees to cut down Perez trying to steal third.
Then in the fifth Perez singled, but Chad Alexander threw out McMillon at home.
The weirdest play came in the sixth when Jalal Leach hit a hard grounder down the first-base line that bounced off umpire James Hoye. Alexander retrived the ball and threw out Leach trying for second.
“[Toledo] has good arms in the outfield, and our lack of speed helped them out,” Columbus manager Stump Merrill said. “But this just shows how we can play, even against a guy who has beat us four times before [Cornejo].”
In the seventh the Clippers' Jeff Nettles singled, moved to second on a sacrifice by Bridges, then scored on a single by Henson, the 15th and final hit Cornejo allowed.
“I thought Nate should have used his change-up more, especially early in the game,” Fields said. “I don't think he or Mike realized it until it was too late.”
Then McMillon greeted reliever Matt Perisho by lashing his third double of the night into the right-field corner to score Henson with the go-ahead run. After an intentional walk and a flyout, Marcus Thames doubled home McMillon with an insurance run.
In the eighth the Hens closed to within a single run when Alexander singled, moved to second on a two-out single by Omar Infante, then scored on a single to right by Andres Torres.
Columbus closer Jason Anderson ended that threat by getting Craig Wilson to ground out. But in the ninth Monroe singled to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in Eric Munson.
Munson, who had doubled home a run in the third, hit into a double-play to end the Hens' hopes of winning for the eighth time in nine games.
Fields said he gave no thought to having Munson bunt.
“Eric Munson is a home-run threat, and in that instance a two-run homer gives us a chance to win,” Fields said. “If we bunt and score only one run, we still have to get them out in the bottom of the ninth. You go for the tie at home and the win on the road.”
The Hens scored a single run in the second inning when Rivera doubled over the head of Thames in center, moved to third on a groundout, then scored on a bloop single by Infante.
Toledo added a run in the second inning when Wilson walked and Munson broke out of an 0-for- 14 slump with his double to the wall in right-center.
In the fourth Toledo scored twice. With one out Brian Rios singled, and one out later Torres beat out a bunt. Columbus starter Matt Beech threw one pitch to Wilson, then left with an injury.
Wilson hit reliever Bob Scanlan's first pitch into the right-field corner to bring both runners home.
But Scanlan, a former Mud Hen, retired seven of the next eight hitters he faced to keep Columbus in the game until its seventh-inning rally.
NOTES: The other three playoff teams have been determined. Durham claimed the South Division title thanks to a 7-1 win over Richmond last night. If the Hens win the IL West they will open against the Bulls at Fifth Third Field on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 4-5. Scranton claimed the North Division crown with a 6-2 win over Pawtucket, and Buffalo earned the wild card berth Thursday ... Torres had two hits to extend his current hit streak to 11 games, while Infante's two hits give him a 10-game hit streak. Monroe's two hits give him a seven-game hit streak during which he has 16 hits in 25 at-bats for a .640 batting average.