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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Missed chances haunt Hens

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Mud Hens manager Bruce Fields had a simple request when asked to revisit Thursday's Toledo-Durham playoff game.

“Let's not, OK?” he said.

No, let's please. The 8-5 loss provided plenty of examples why the Hens found themselves behind the eight-ball in this best-of-five series.

In fact, the first example of the Mud Hens' troubles came in the very first inning Thursday. The first four batters reached base for Toledo, which led 2-0 and had two runners in scoring position.

Those baserunners never came home, though, as the Hens, over the span of 13 innings, had 14 consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position.

“We had a multitude of run-scoring opportunities that we didn't capitalize on during the game,” Fields said. “The game came down to us needing a two-out hit, and we didn't get it. We paid for it.”

The Hens also paid for several bits of strategy that backfired. The most obvious gambit that failed was a suicide-squeeze attempt that turned into a double play that ended the fourth inning.

Ryan Jackson led off the inning with a triple and Brian Rios followed with a walk. Omar Infante fouled out to first, and on a 1-1 pitch Andres Torres lined a bunt to the glove of Russ Johnson at third to start a twin killing.

“Initially I was going to try a squeeze with Infante, but Omar has been pretty good driving in runs with runners in scoring position,” Fields said. “When Omar popped out, I told Ryan that if the count was 1-1, I would try the squeeze. It was a good pitch to bunt, but we just didn't get it down.”

Another bit of strategy that worked against the Hens was Mike Rivera's double leading off the eighth. The problem? Rivera ran through a stop sign on the hit and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.

It was a play that smacked of trying to do too much, or trying to make something happen to fire up a large crowd.

“We didn't have to do anything to fire the guys up [with that crowd],” Fields said. “Everyone wanted to come through for the fans. But in the dugout we felt all game long we were going to win.”

But instead it was the Bulls that claimed the win, thanks in large part to the top of the order. Second batter Jason Tyner and third hitter Ryan Freel combined for six hits in 12 at-bats, scoring the Bulls' first three runs.

“Tyner and Freel set the table for them,” Fields said. “When things get started for them, those two guys are in the middle of it.”

Both also made game-saving catches for Durham. Freel made a diving catch near the right-field line in the ninth to take away a hit from Torres - had Freel not caught the ball, it probably would have resulted in at least a triple.

And Tyner made a fine leaping catch at the base of the wall in left to rob Derek Nicholson of an extra-base hit.

“Both of those catches denied us the opportunity to get chances to win the game,” Fields said. “They were big, big plays.”



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