For the second time in three seasons, the Mud Hens are playing meaningful games in August. Despite its current skid, the team still has a chance to claim its second berth in the International League's Governors Cup playoffs since moving to Fifth Third Field in 2002.
At the start of play last night Toledo found itself one-half game behind Columbus in the IL's West Division. While that may be disappointing considering the Hens' 2 1/2-game lead over the Clippers a week ago, a half-game lead can be overcome in a single day.
But it won't be easy. The Hens play 16 of their final 28 games on the road as well as 16 games against teams with winning records. Meanwhile, Columbus, following a doubleheader with Durham today, plays only 13 more games on the road and has just 12 games against teams with winning records.
This race easily could drag on until the final week of the season, when the Hens and Clippers play their final five games against one another. The last three contests will be played Saturday through Monday, Sept. 4-6, at Fifth Third Field.
The battle between Toledo and Columbus for the West Division crown is but one of four contests for berths in the Governors Cup playoffs. Another close race is shaping up in the South, where Durham has a 1 1/2-game lead over Richmond thanks in large part to the Bulls' recent 11-game winning streak.
The Hens may play a role in this race, since they play both teams four times in a two-week span beginning yesterday. But the race probably will be decided in eight late head-to-head matchups.
Things aren't as close in the North Division, where Buffalo holds a four-game advantage over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Bisons, who have benefited from the Red Barons' 6-16 collapse since the All-Star break, have only 11 more home games after today, while Scranton has 14 and Rochester has 16. Buffalo and Rochester will face off six more times, while Scranton will play against both Buffalo and Rochester just three more times.
The craziest race will be for the IL's wild-card berth, which currently belongs to Richmond. Six other teams are above the .500 mark and less than three games behind the Braves, though, including the Mud Hens. Toledo is a game behind Richmond and in third place in the wild-card race, a half-game behind Scranton.
But Rochester, Norfolk, and Charlotte all were within two games of the R-Braves, and Pawtucket's recent resurgence placed them 2 1/2 back.
COWBELL CENTRAL: For those who keep asking, here's the story about the cowbells the Hens were given before Friday's game against Charlotte.
Shortly after the All-Star break, several Hens were talking about a Saturday Night Live skit in which Will Ferrell played the cowbell for the band Blue Oyster Cult on its '70s hit, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."
The team shared the laugh with the team's manager of video board operations, Mike Ramirez. Ramirez happened to have a copy of the skit, and played it on the Fifth Third Field scoreboard before the team began stretching for batting practice.
Since that time, the skit has become such a staple that the team demands it be played before batting practice every day.
RANKIN RUNNER-UP: Matt Rankin saw his bid to become the first trainer immortalized on a bobblehead fall just short.
According to the Mud Hens, Rankin ran away with the Internet vote, but Shane Loux claimed the in-stadium vote by an even wider margin. As a result, Loux finished with 828 total votes to Rankin's 522.
The Hens will give away bobbleheads featuring Loux to 1,000 fans in a random lottery on Monday, Aug. 23.
TRISTA'S LOSS, PAWTUCKET'S GAIN: Before the start of the 2004 season, Justin Sherrod probably was best-known as a contestant on The Bachelorette.
While he was passed over by Trista Rehn on TV, he has not been rejected by Pawtucket. The 26-year-old outfielder is batting .310 for the season.
CAN HE PLAY EVERYDAY?: Ottawa announced that it will repeat its most popular promotion this season when cartoon character SpongeBob Squareparts returns to Lynx Stadium on Aug. 18.
SpongeBob helped draw a crowd of 5,785 when he visited the Lynx at home on June 12. For the season, Ottawa has drawn just 112,883 fans to Lynx Stadium in 50 dates - an average of only 2,257.
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.