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Published: Sunday, 6/20/2004

Thames powers Hens to victory

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mud Hens starter Andy Van Hekken struck out 11 batters, a season-high, against Louisville last night at Fifth Third Field. Mud Hens starter Andy Van Hekken struck out 11 batters, a season-high, against Louisville last night at Fifth Third Field.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Marcus Thames kept the Mud Hens from losing last night by belting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.

Then Thames gave the Mud Hens a 4-3 victory over Louisville by slamming another home run to lead off the 13th inning in the team's longest game this season in terms of both innings and time (3:47).

The victory was Toledo's third in the last four games, and all three victories have come in extra innings. What's more, Thames' two home runs give him an International League-best 24 this season and helped the Hens remain a half-game behind first-place Columbus in the International League's West Division.

The Clippers scored three in the top of the ninth, then hung out to win at Syracuse 5-4 yesterday.

"Which [home run] was bigger? They both were huge - and they both were no-doubters, " said Hens manager Larry Parrish. "When you are playing with a guy and he can amaze you [like Thames did], that's a pretty good tribute."

The first of Thames' two homers erased a 3-1 Bats lead in the eighth. That rally started when Louisville's Ray Olmedo beat out a one-out bunt for a single off Toledo starter Andy Van Hekken, but was forced at second on a grounder by Jason Romano that nearly was a double play. First base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled that Romano beat the relay throw from Rayner Bautista to first.

Romano stole second, and Juan Castro hit a chopper up the middle that got through for an RBI single. Kenny Kelly lofted a long drive to deep center that turned Nook Logan around; the ball fell for a triple that scored Castro and knocked Van Hekken out of the game.

But that lead lasted exactly three batters into the bottom of the eighth. Logan beat out a bunt for a single off Bats starter Matt

Belisle before moving to second on a groundout by Danny Klassen. Then Thames, playing in his first game since a hamstring injury caused him to miss the four games at Richmond, launched his league-leading 23rd home run of the season over the left-field fence and onto Monroe Street.

"That game-tying [homer] is a heart-breaker," said Louisville manager Rick Burleson. "Belisle had pitched well, and we were battling and trying to get a win. [Belisle] threw pretty well, but he left a fastball up."

The score remained tied until Thames led off the bottom of the 13th against Bats reliever Joe Valentine by hammering a 3-2 pitch over the fence in left for his sixth home run and 11th RBI in just seven games against Louisville.

"Their pitchers had thrown good pitches earlier in the game and I had just missed them," Thames said. "In that at-bat [Valentine] got ahead, but I battled back. Then I got a good pitch to hit."

That homer made a winner out of John Ennis, who improved to 8-5 by claiming his second straight relief victory in as many outings.

He threw two scoreless relief innings, as did Franklyn German, while Chris Mears was unscored upon in 11/3 innings.

That backed up a fine start by Van Hekken, who allowed just eight hits and fanned a career-high 11 in 72/3 innings.

Besides his eighth-inning struggles, the only run Van Hekken allowed came on Romano's one-out homer in the sixth.

Thames also had a hand in Toledo's first-inning run as he followed a walk to Logan by lacing a broken-bat single to right that moved Logan to third, where he scored on Joe Vitiello's single.



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