COLUMBUS - The Toledo Mud Hens are nearing the promised land.
Last night the Hens defeated Columbus 5-1 at Cooper Stadium to move within a single game of claiming the club's first playoff berth since 1984.
Louisville lost at Indianapolis 4-0 last night, moving the Hens' magic number to claim the division title to one. The next Toledo win or Louisville loss will give the Hens sole possession of the IL's West Division crown.
And Mud Hens manager Bruce Fields admitted that his team was scoreboard-watching.
“Just a little bit,” said Fields sarcastically when asked if his team was following the progress of the Bats' game in Indianapolis, which started an hour before his team's contest. “We saw [Louisville] fell behind early, but it wasn't even mentioned [in the dugout]. We had to take care of our own business.”
And Toledo did just that in clinching at least a share of the franchise's first division title since the 1968 squad finished first in an eight-team IL, one year after winning Toledo's only Governors' Cup crown.
The Hens won for the eighth time in 10 games behind Pat Ahearne's nifty eight innings of five-hit ball and a timely offensive outburst in the early innings.
The Hens scored three runs in the opening inning off Columbus starter Alex Graman. With one out Craig Wilson drew a walk and Craig Monroe sent him to third by drilling a double down the left-field line.
With the infield in, Eric Munson rapped a hard grounder toward shortstop. Monroe stayed in front of Clipper shortstop Kary Bridges, shielding his view of the grounder until it got past the shortstop for a two-run single.
“[Munson] hit it right at me, and I didn't even have much time to react,” Monroe said. “But it turned out to be a good play. Good things happen when you make good contact, and Eric did that.”
One out later Chad Alexander tripled into the gap in left-center to bring Munson home.
In the fifth, the Hens added a pair of unearned runs to put the game out of reach.
With one out Brian Rios hit a grounder into the hole at second base; Andy Phillips grabbed the ball, spun and threw wildly to first to allow Rios to reach second.
Omar Infante's groundout moved Rios to third, and he scored on Andres Torres' single to left. Torres then stole second and moved to third on a throwing error by Columbus catcher Michel Hernandez. Wilson walked and Monroe, in the midst of a 19-for-30 streak, singled through the box to bring Torres home.
That was more than enough runs for Ahearne, who limited the Clippers to six hits and a run in eight strong innings. He retired 12 of the last 14 hitters he faced and allowed just one runner to reach third after the second, the inning in which Columbus scored its lone run.
It was an impressive performance, especially since it came one day after the Clippers bashed 18 hits against the Hens.
“I threw a lot of off-speed pitches to keep them off-balance,” Ahearne said. “I saw the day before that they were a good fastball-hitting club, so I tried to keep them guessing.”
Monroe likes the way he and his teammates are playing in the final stretch of the season.
“We are all excited, but we're also calm and confident,” he said. “We're playing the game the way it should be played, and we're doing the little things you need to do to win.”
NOTES: The Hens finish the regular season with home games against the Clippers today and tomorrow while Louisville hosts Indianapolis those two days. ... Torres' fourth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 12 games, the longest for a Hen this season. Monroe's three-hit night extended his batting streak to eight games, but Infante saw a 10-game hit streak end. ... Speaking of streaks, the Clippers' Drew Henson singled in the first inning to extend his hit streak to nine games. During that span the former University of Michigan quarterback has hit four home runs. ... Hens' pitcher Shane Loux celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday.
INDIANAPOLIS - Right-hander Francisco Campos pitched eight shutout innings as the Indianapolis Indians defeated the Louisville Bats 4-0 yesterday.
Campos (3-0), who struck out three and allowed only three hits, didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning.