Mud Hens baserunners Michael Rivera (7) and Craig Wilson (8) both ended up on third base in the third inning, and both ended up being out on the play, which seemed symbolic of how Toledo's fine season ended.
DURHAM, N.C. - You'll have to excuse the Mud Hens if they feel snakebit.
Twice last night the Hens saw big innings whittled down to one-run rallies with plays that bordered on bad karma.
But the Hens actually were “speedbit” in a 4-2 loss to the Durham Bulls that ended Toledo's dream season.
The Bulls certainly got a few breaks last night to claim the victory in front of 4,235 fans at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. But it was the Bulls' speed that gave them a 3-0 sweep over Toledo in this Governors' Cup semifinal series.
“There's no question their speed set the tone,” said Hens starter Jason Beverlin. “They do a lot of things like bunt and steal bases, and it seemed as if they always had a guy in scoring position. That puts the pressure on a pitching staff and a defense.”
The Hens lost their eighth consecutive playoff game and 10th in their last 11, including a three-game sweep in 1984 and four losses in five games in the 1980 finals. Still Toledo manager Bruce Fields was proud of his team's accomplishments.
“Our guys gave us everything they had, but we just didn't get it done,” Fields said. “I told them after the game that I was proud of what these guys accomplished. They brought baseball back to Toledo, and it was just fun to be a part of it.”
Durham's Rocco Baldelli manages to duck under the tag of Toledo catcher Michael Rivera to score on a sacrifice fly.
The Hens scored first in the third inning off Durham starter Dewon Brazelton, but it was a struggle. Mike Rivera led off with a single and Craig Wilson then beat out a bunt single. Bulls catcher Paul Hoover threw wildly to first on Wilson's hit, allowing Rivera to move to third and Wilson to take second.
That's when the Hens' troubles started. Omar Infante hit a grounder to Russ Johnson at third, and Rivera was caught in a rundown trying to score. Wilson advanced from second to third, getting there just before Rivera returned to that bag. Hoover tagged both runners.
In that situation Wilson, the trailing runner, is out. But Rivera walked off the base, and Hoover tagged him out, too, for a double play.
“I thought he tagged me first,” Rivera said. “When I got to the base I thought Wilson was the guy who was safe. It was a little bit confusing.”
Andres Torres singled home Infante for one run and a little consolation, but Jarrod Patterson grounded out to end the inning.
Durham then used its speed to create a run in the bottom of the third. Hoover singled, moved to second on a sacrifice by Brooks Badeaux and scored when Rocco Baldelli singled off Beverlin's glove.
In the fifth more speed meant two more runs for the Bulls. Hoover legged out a double down the left-field line, and one out later Baldelli slammed an RBI triple high off the 32-foot “Blue Monster” in left field. Jason Tyner then lofted a fly ball to shallow center, but Baldelli outran Torres' throw home to make the score 3-1.
Meanwhile, the Hens were stymied by Brazelton and the Durham defense. After Torres' RBI single in the third Brazelton retired 10 of the next 12 batters he faced.
The only hit in that span was a single by Derek Nicholson in which Nicholson was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
And Torres had a hit stolen when first baseman Matt Luke made a diving stop of a ball that seemed destined for the right-field corner.
The Hens finally broke through in the seventh when Nicholson singled with one out, then moved to second when Rivera singled one out later. Wilson hit a hard grounder to third that Johnson dived for and gloved, but his throw to first was wide and the bases were loaded.
Infante then lined a single to left to bring Nicholson home, but Rivera slowed to get past Johnson at third and was thrown out at the plate by Tyner.
“When I got to Johnson he was in the baseline, and I should have grabbed him,” Rivera said. “Instead I tried to run around him, and the outfielder made a great throw to get me out.”
Fields said that play was indicative of the game - and the series. “It seemed as if something always cropped up and hurt us,” he said. “But I also thought we didn't play this series the way it needed to be played.”
The Bulls added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh. With one out Tyner beat out a bunt that died in fair territory down the third-base line, then stole second. One out later Luke lined a single to center that brought Tyner home with an insurance run.
And the Hens saw their final chance to win extinguished in the eighth when, with two on and one out, Munson grounded into a double play.
“Once we lost Thursday I thought we lost all momentum,” Fields said, referencing the Hens' 13-inning loss at Fifth Third Field. “If we would have come here tied 1-1, maybe things would have been different. But coming here down 0-2 is tough.”