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Published: Monday, 7/28/2003

Richmond edges punchless Hens

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Pitcher Nate Robertson had a quality start for the Hens yesterday, giving up just 2 runs on 6 hits through 8 innings. Pitcher Nate Robertson had a quality start for the Hens yesterday, giving up just 2 runs on 6 hits through 8 innings.
KEESE / BLADE Enlarge

OK, first things first. The Richmond Braves clearly beat the Mud Hens 3-1 at Fifth Third Field yesterday afternoon.

The Hens managed just three hits against four Richmond pitchers and had only two singles after Cody Ross led off the bottom of the first with a long home run.

But there was one problem: The game was called in the top of the ninth inning when a torrential downpour left the field unplayable.

Would the Hens have been able to come back in the bottom of the ninth? We'll never know because the umpires allowed play to continue two batters into the top of the ninth despite hard rains that made for near-zero visibility. And when the call for the tarp finally came, the Toledo grounds crew had lost its chance to cover the field.

After a 45-minute delay mandated by the International League, the game was ended. But that wait didn't do much to calm Toledo manager Larry Parrish.

“That was [expletive], plain and simple,'' Parrish said. “When it starts raining hard like that, you throw your hands up and call for the tarp. We had no chance to try and get another full inning in - it was pitch-black when the inning started. And it put everyone on the grounds crew in jeopardy with the lightning crackling and the wind blowing.

“I'm not saying the umpires cost us the game, because we had our opportunities to win. But the game never should have ended that way.''

Yes, the Hens did have opportunities. One came in the second inning, when Richmond starter Travis Phelps issued two-out walks to Kevin Jordan, Yohanny Valera and Cody Ross to load the bases.

Phelps escaped trouble when Omar Infante flied out to left.

Then in the fifth, Braves reliever Derrick Lewis hit Valera with a pitch, and Ross singled through the hole at short to put two runners on with none out. But Infante's sacrifice bunt attempt was a popup that catcher Johnny Estrada caught, and Lewis got the next two batters to fly out to end the threat.

“We had a situation in the fifth where, had Infante gotten the bunt down, the next guy hits the ball to the outfield and we take the lead,'' Parrish said.

Richmond manager Pat Kelly thought his team's ability to escape trouble in the second and fifth was an important part of his team's win.

“The key for Phelps was in the second, when he got the bases loaded but no runs came in,'' Kelly said. “And for Lewis to get out of the fifth with no runs allowed was huge. But our bullpen has been a strength of this team all year.''

Meanwhile, Toledo starter Nate Robertson pitched very well after giving up a run in the opening inning. With two outs Adam LaRoche doubled off the fence in left, and after a walk to Estrada, Mike Hessman lined a 1-2 pitch to left for a single.

Hessman then broke the tie leading off the seventh when he crashed a 1-2 pitch from Robertson high over the left-field screen that protects Monroe Street for his 10th home run of the season.

“I got ahead 0-2 and threw a two-seam [fastball] away, trying to nibble for the third strike,'' Robertson said. “Then I threw him a slider, and he probably was thinking that I had made him look pretty silly with that slider earlier. The only way he gets that good a swing on the slider is if he's looking for it.''

Parrish praised Robertson despite the loss, noting that the lefty allowed just six hits and a walk in eight solid innings. “When your starter gives up only two runs in eight innings, he's done his job,'' Parrish said. “We got a quality start today.''

But perhaps the most impressive hit for Hessman came in the ninth, when, with one out and the heavy rains drenching everything, he drove a 1-2 pitch by Corey Brittan through the rain and over the fence for his second home run of the day. The visibility was such that Hiram Bocachica in left never moved after the ball was struck: He never saw it.

“I knew I hit that well, but I didn't know if it would go out,'' Hessman said of the second home run. “I couldn't get a good grip on the bat, and [the pitcher] probably couldn't get a good grip on the ball.

“I was surprised to be out there.''



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