LOUISVILLE — Marcus Thames says he's always been a slow starter in April. He knew if he kept working hard, he would get things going with the bat.
But even Thames couldn't have predicted the breakthrough he experienced yesterday. The Mud Hens outfielder smacked three home runs and drove in five runs during a 9-5 victory over host Louisville.
It was the first three-home-run game ever for Thames, who came into the game batting just .228 with two homers.
“That was fun,” he said. “And I needed it.”
Thames homered in the third, eighth and ninth innings and also added an RBI double. The three homers were a Slugger Field record and one shy of the Hens' record of four in a game, accomplished by Bubba Trammell on Aug. 9, 1997, versus Richmond in 13 innings.
Seven Hens have hit three home runs in an International League game. The last to do it was Stine Poole against Rochester on April 27, 1983, at Skeldon Stadium. The day before that, Tim Teufel did the same against Rochester.
Thames took advantage of a gusty day that added a few extra yards to most fly balls. But his first home run was a no-doubter that traveled 415 feet to left. Only his two-run, ninth-inning blast appeared wind-aided.
“I think the wind really helped on the last one, but you've got to play with the elements sometimes,” he said. “The main thing was getting good pitches and putting good swings on them. They were all fastballs.”
Said Toledo manager Larry Parrish: “It was a good day to hit for everybody. But he did more with it than anybody else. That was great to see, because if we're going to win, we have to have Marcus in the middle of our lineup providing offense.”
The trip to Louisville may have provided just what the Mud Hens' offense needed. They came into town with the IL's lowest team batting average and left after scoring 15 runs and compiling 25 hits.
“We weren't getting the big hits, weren't hitting with men in scoring position — the little things,” Thames said. “I think we've got a pretty good team, and once everybody starts click|ing we're going to have some fun. Hopefully, we can carry this on to the next series.”
Toledo jumped right out in front with three quick runs off Louisville starter Bubba Nelson (0-2). Nook Logan scored the first run on a wild pitch, and Thames doubled home the second. Jason Smith added an RBI sacrifice fly.
The Mud Hens led 4-0 after Thames' first homer. But Louisville battled back with homers from Jermaine Clark and Brandon Larson and got to within 5-4 when Clark caught the Toledo defense napping in the seventh inning, scoring from first on a Felipe Lopez single while shortstop Brant Ust casually took the relay.
But Thames put the margin back in safe territory with a solo homer in the eighth, followed later by a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from Logan.
Toledo starter John Ennis (2-2) allowed seven hits and three runs in 52/3 innings, striking out six. Matt Anderson pitched the final two innings for the save.