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Published: Saturday, 8/7/2004

Nothing changes Hens' luck

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Mud Hens' recent luck has been so bad, the team took drastic action last night to change it.

Muddy and Muddonna threw horseshoes - they missed, by the way.

The players wore red sleeves and red hats rather than the blue sleeves and hats they normally wear for night games.

The team sang "God Bless America" before the contest.

The players and coaches all found cowbells in their lockers because ... well, it's a long story.

The short story is none of those things worked as Toledo dropped a 10-inning, 4-2 decision to Charlotte for the Hens' fifth straight defeat, its longest losing streak of the season.

The setback came in the 200th game in Fifth Third Field and was played before a sellout crowd of 10,300 for the Hens' 17th full house this season and the 70th sellout in three seasons.

The Hens' third extra-inning loss in this six-game home-

stand dropped them into second place in the IL's West Division, a half-game behind Columbus after the Clippers beat Indianapolis.

"The 10th sure hasn't been kind to us this week," said Hens manager Larry Parrish. "Three nights we give up two runs in the top of the 10th, especially after we had come back. That's a heartbreaker. A heartbreaker."

Entering the bottom of the

ninth it looked if all those curse-busters had no effect as the Hens trailed 2-0. But Eric Owens' leadoff liner off the glove of pitcher Jeff Bajenaru was misplayed by second baseman Bryant Nelson for an error.

One out later Craig Monroe's double sent Owens to third, where he came home on pinch-hitter Andy Barkett's groundout. Greg Norton then blooped a 2-2 pitch into right field for a run-scoring single.

But in the top of the 10th Toledo reliever Franklyn German walked Nelson to lead off, and after a strikeout, Reggie Taylor smacked an 0-2 pitch for a two-run homer.

Toledo starter Pat Ahearne had to wiggle out of jams in three of the first four innings before finally surrendering a pair of runs in the fifth. With two outs Nelson blooped a single to right, then moved to third when catcher Guillermo Rodriguez threw wildly on a steal attempt.

Bobby Smith lined a double down the third-base line to score Bryant, and Taylor's ground single up the middle plated Smith.

It didn't help that the Hens made four errors in the contest, including three that forced Ahearne to throw 121 pitches just to finish six innings.

"That's the amazing thing, we made four errors that didn't cost us at all," Parrish said. "But the errors made Ahearne's pitch count a lot higher, and he had to make a lot of pitches to get out of bunch of jams.

"Typically, when a team has a lot of chances to score and doesn't take advantage, that's the game you win. But not tonight."

At least not with these hexed Hens.

NOTES: Before the game the Hens activated Barkett from the disabled list. The left-handed hitter did not start last night because the Hens faced a southpaw in Munoz. ... After the game the Tigers announced that Monroe had finished his rehab assignment with Toledo and will rejoin Detroit today. Catcher Mike DiFelice was optioned to the Hens to make room for Monroe. ... Adrian Burnside left the team yesterday to join the Australian Olympic Team on its way to Athens. ... Right-handed pitcher Lino Urdaneta, a Rule 5 pick by the Tigers last December who has spent most of the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury, will join the Hens at some point on their upcoming road trip.

Joe Vitiello admitted yesterday that the chances he will return to the Mud Hens this season are slim, if not already gone.

"I'm 99.9 percent certain I won't be back," he said via phone from his home in Del Mar, Calif. "But if there's one thing I've learned in this game, it's that you never say never."

Vitiello left the team on July 26 to return home and deal with the illness of his wife and several children. Since that time the family has returned to health, but Vitiello has not returned to the team.

The 34-year-old Vitiello declined comment on the reasons he has not returned. He did say his departure had nothing to do with playing in Toledo or for the Mud Hens.

"I loved playing for Toledo, and the fans were great," said Vitiello, who hit .328 with 16 homers and a team-high 70 RBIs in 86 games for the Hens. "If you are going to play in the minors, Toledo is the best minor-league place to play."

The parent Detroit Tigers moved Vitiello from the "temporary inactive" list to the "suspended" list Aug. 1.

"The temporary inactive list involves situations such as family illness or death or births, or events such as playing in the Futures Game or the Olympics," said International League president Randy Mobley. "The suspended list involves some type of conflict between the player and a team - a guy leaves his team, or there's some sort of contractual disagreement."

Ricky Bennett, Detroit's director of minor-league operations, did not return calls seeking comment.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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