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Published: Saturday, 4/9/2005

Mud Hens start season with a pair of wins

BY KEVIN BRAFFORD
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

DURHAM, N.C. - Ever the philosopher, Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said there's only one thing better than starting the season with a victory.

That's starting it with two, particularly when both come on the same day.

Toledo did just that last night, scoring two runs in the 10th inning to beat Durham 7-5 in a game suspended Thursday by rain, then holding off the Bulls in the regularly scheduled game 5-3.

"It's a good feeling, I'll tell you that," Parrish said. "We've come out of the chute pretty well."

Shortstop Gookie Dawkins was the hero early and right-handed reliever Chris Spurling the hero late.

It was Dawkins who delivered the win in the first game, driving a two-run double into the gap in left-center off Chris Brock before most of the fans had even settled into their seats.

Vic Darensbourg set down the Bulls in order, giving Toledo one win in its pocket. And the Hens didn't waste time putting both hands around a second one.

Marcus Thames, who went 5-for-5 on Thursday and had forced extra innings with a two-out, game-tying solo homer in the ninth, repeated the feat with a shot off Durham starter and loser Doug Waechter.

Singles by Mike Hessman and Alexis Gomez brought Chris Shelton to the plate, and the Toledo designated hitter hammered a 1-2 pitch deep into the right-field bleachers.

"That was a big blow for us," Parrish said. "A 1-0 lead is nice, but when you put four on the board just like that you have something to work from."

The beneficiary was 25-year-old Sean Douglass, who was making his Hens debut after being signed in the offseason from the Blue Jays' organization.

The 6-6, 218-pound right-hander was able to work around two hits and three walks in four solid innings, thanks largely to six strikeouts.

"He was in the big-league camp all spring, so he hasn't had much work," Parrish said. "We got four good innings out of him, and at this time of year you have to rely on your bullpen."

Mark Woodyard was the first reliever summoned. Two errors by second baseman Ryan Raburn - in the throes of a miserable night, he also had been charged with an error an inning earlier and fanned in all four of his at-bats - allowed the Bulls to score twice.

Shelton made it 5-2 in the sixth with a single that scored Gomez, who also had singled - his fifth hit in the two games.

From there, the night belonged to Spurling. The 27-year-old was making his first appearance in more than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last March to repair a ligament tear in his elbow.

He set down all nine batters he faced during the next three innings, needing just 25 pitches to induce six ground balls and three infield pop-ups.

"Just to be back out here, pitching in my first actual game, is special," Spurling said. "I was mostly using my fastball and my sinker. I don't know how I did it, but I sure did like it."

"To me, he was the key to the game," Parrish said. "We needed those innings."

Craig Dingman allowed a run in the ninth to make it 5-3. He escaped further trouble when B.J. Upton was thrown out by Thames trying to stretch a single into a double.

Right-hander Nelson Cruz is scheduled to start for the Hens in today's 5 p.m. game. He'll be opposed by Durham right-hander John Webb.



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