As home openers go, last night was just about perfect for the Mud Hens.
The pitching was crisp. The offense was productive. The defense was flawless. The crowd was a record.
It all added up to an easy 8-1 victory over Durham in the Hens' first game at Fifth Third Field, a win that pushed Toledo's early season record to 7-1. That start, by far the team's best in recent years, gives the Hens the best record in the International League this season.
"That was a pretty good win," said Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish. "There were a couple of times where we were on the ropes a little bit, but guys were able to get the outs when they needed to.
"We couldn't have scripted it any better."
The Mud Hens offense used a combination of timely hitting and gifts from Durham shortstop B.J. Upton, who committed three errors, to score at least one run in four of the first six innings and four unearned runs overall.
"We haven't exploded for seven or eight runs in an inning. We keep grinding it out," Parrish said. "We get one here, two here, two there, and before the game is over with we've scored enough to win.
"We keep battling and take advantage when we can."
Sandy Martinez had an RBI single and Upton made an error on a high popup as the Hens scored twice in the first. In the fourth Ryan Raburn capped a 10-pitch at-bat against Durham starter Jim Magrane with a long home run to center, his third of the season.
Upton's error on Curtis Granderson's grounder in the hole in the fifth led to another unearned run. Toledo broke the game open in the sixth with four runs, two of which scored on Granderson's double into the right-center gap.
"Our goal was to continue to have fun like we were having in the spring," said Granderson, who had three hits to lead Toledo's 12-hit attack. "That's what we're doing. We're joking around at the start of the game, during the game and at the end of the game, and that's why we're having the success we are right now."
Toledo starter Nelson Cruz and the Hens' bullpen limited the Bulls to a single run on seven hits. The Durham run came in the third when Upton doubled off Cruz with two outs and Damon Hollins singled him home.
The Bulls saw other chances to score go by the boards thanks to a combination of good pitching and timely defense.
Cruz struck out Jeff Deardorff to escape bases-loaded trouble in the third, and reliever Doug Creek fanned former Hen Eric Munson on a high fastball to get out of a similar jam in the seventh.
Defensively, Toledo first baseman Mike Hessman speared a line drive off the bat of Steve Cox to end a two-on, two-out threat in the first. In the fourth, Dewayne Wise's over-the-shoulder catch of a deep drive by Brooks Badeaux blunted another Bulls threat.
Shortstop Gookie Dawkins stranded two more Durham runners in the fifth with a leaping stab of Deardorff's line drive. The Bulls left 14 runners on base in the game.
"Three or four times we made a play to keep the game where it was," Parrish said. "And different guys made them - Wise in left, Hessman at first, Dawkins at shortstop.
"We felt, defensively, we're going to be a good club. When you look at it, we only gave up one run. But we made some plays to keep it at one run."
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