DURHAM, N.C. Years from now, when Brant Ust fondly looks back on what he hopes will be a long and productive career, a steamy August night in Durham won t be among the happy memories.
Toledo s multi-purpose infielder, an All-Big East shortstop at Notre Dame in 1999, played last night as if a novice, committing a pair of throwing errors he could have been charged with a third in the Mud Hens 7-2 loss to the Bulls.
After opening August with nine consecutive losses, Toledo (61-63) is doing no better than treading water, having dropped three straight and seeing its West Division title aspirations grow weaker by the day. Last night s loss to the Bulls (66-59), coupled with Columbus 10-7 win at Louisville, leaves the Hens five games back of the Clippers with 20 to play.
Toledo does finish the regular season with five games against the Clippers the final three at Fifth Third Field but any more ground lost during the next couple of weeks will render those games meaningless.
The Hens misplays catcher Guillermo Rodriguez also was charged with an error were too much for Pat Ahearne (9-10) to overcome on a night when the veteran right-hander didn t have his best stuff.
The International League s innings-pitched leader with 154 coming in worked into the seventh, but it wasn t pretty. He was touched for 12 hits and three of the seven runs charged to him were earned.
But it was the four unearned runs, coupled with a couple of other plays that weren t made which would have saved Ahearne pitches, that had manager Larry Parrish shaking his head.
We played tonight like they need to put a tent over us, said Parrish. Pat did a good job of getting us out of some jams that we helped get him into, but he couldn t pitch around them all, especially tonight.
No one was more upset than the 26-year-old Ust, who has been one of the Hens most valuable players thanks largely to his versatility.
Last night s start was just his 11th of the season at shortstop. He s made 38 at third base, 21 at second, eight at first and seven in left field, and despite having to change gloves as often as Elizabeth Taylor changes husbands, he didn t offer any excuses for his errors, both on poor throws.
Those are throws that anybody can make, he said. Errors happen, but when runs score you kick yourself for it. I just didn t make the plays.
Toledo, meanwhile, had its chances against the soft offerings of Durham right-hander Jim Magrane. Leadoff batter Rich Gomez did his part, scoring after a first-inning single and then driving home Eric Owens with another hit in the fifth, but his teammates weren t productive in key situations.
The biggest disappointment came in the fifth when Gomez s RBI single was followed by an infield hit from Chad Alexander and a line-drive single to the outfield by Andy Barkett that filled the bases.
With the tying run in scoring position facing a 4-2 deficit, cleanup hitter Benji Gil put a weak swing on a Magrane changeup and bounced it weakly back to the pitcher, who quickly turned it into an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.
That was the big turning point in the game to me, said Parrish.
He didn t have a good swing and we got a bad result.
The teams will play the second of this four-game series at 1 p.m. today. Left-hander Andy Van Hekken (9-4, 5.04 ERA) is set to start for the Mud Hens against Durham right-hander Jason Sandridge (5-4, 4.36).
Night games follow tomorrow and Friday before Toledo returns home to play host to Louisville for two games and Indianapolis for three.