Not that there's been much doubt of late, but there will be no International League West Division pennant for the Mud Hens in 2003.
At least not outright.
With a 3-1 victory last night at Fifth Third Field, the Louisville Bats made that official. The Mud Hens, 62-70 and losers of seven of their last eight games, must win their last 12 games in the regular season while first-place Louisville drops its final 13 for Toledo to make even a partial claim on the crown it won last season.
“We haven't had a stretch, since really the first part of the season, where we've really looked like a playoff team,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “We've had to battle, as a team, all year, to get the wins that we've gotten. You think back to that game [April 16] in Columbus when we scored 16. For us, four runs is a major output.”
It was the same story against the Bats: Toledo failed to push runners across the plate when given the chance.
With the score tied at 1, Toledo wasted a perfect opportunity in the seventh inning. After Ernie Young and Patrick Lennon drew back-to-back leadoff walks, Brant Ust twice tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, only to foul the pitches off. He then flied out to right.
Gene Kingsale followed with an out to center. Kevin Jordan ended the threat, popping to first.
“It seems like every day, it shows up again and again,” Parrish said of the Hens' inability to drive in baserunners. “I really feel like that's why we're playing the way we are now. The players know it, that that's been our problem. I think that mentally, they sort of beat themselves down because of it.
“They know that we haven't done well at this. `I gotta get this guy in, I gotta get him in.' It's tough enough to hit as it is. You put that kind of pressure on yourself and it doesn't help. It just magnifies the problem.”
In their next at-bat after killing the rally, the Bats capitalized. With one out, Mark Budzinski tripled off the wall down the third-base line.
The next batter, Emil Brown, sent him home with a bloop single over the head of a drawn-in Jordan, who was playing second base. It was the winning run.
“This year, we're not doing, in the clutch, the simple stuff,” said catcher Yohanny Valera, who played for the Hens last season. “It's the routine stuff, like moving the runners over.
“Nobody likes to lose. It's kind of tough, but you've gotta deal with it.”
Added Parrish: “They pushed and pushed and pushed just to stay there. Now that they've fallen out a little bit, mentally, they don't have anything left.”
NOTES: The magic number for the Hens to be officially eliminated from the wild-card race is six. Any combination of Toledo losses and Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre wins and the Hens will miss the postseason for the 18th time in 19 years ... The Detroit Tigers claimed right-handed pitcher John Ennis off waivers from Atlanta and optioned him to the Mud Hens. Ennis, 23, was 2-11 (5.56 ERA) at Richmond in 28 appearances including 15 starts. To make room for Ennis, right-hander Tyler Walker (2-9, 4.63 ERA) was designated for assignment. ... Andy Van Hekken, a 3-1 winner Tuesday in Indianapolis, was assigned to Double-A Erie.