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Even though 71 hitters came to the plate in the Mud Hens' home game with Durham yesterday, Toledo's 8-3 loss to the Bulls hinged on one critical at-bat.
That at-bat came in the top of the fifth, when Durham's Damon Hollins faced Hens starter Jason Grilli with two outs and two on and the scored tied at 1.
Grilli got ahead of Hollins 1-2, wasted a pitch, then saw the Bulls' left fielder foul off four straight pitches before crushing a breaking ball well over the fence in left-center and onto Monroe Street.
The Mud Hens never recovered from that three-run homer in dropping their second straight decision after starting the season 7-1.
"You don't want to take anything away from their guy, because he fouled off some tough pitches and then hit the ball a ton," said Toledo manager Larry Parrish. "But in that situation our pitcher didn't make a pitch. He threw four breaking balls, but he never threw a good one."
Hollins was quick to point out that, even though the home run pitch may not have been good, he still had to hit it.
"I knew [Grilli] was going to be barreling down on me, so I just tried to hit the ball hard somewhere," Hollins said. "People might say he made a bad pitch right there, but if I pop it up or strike out on it, they're clapping their hands about it."
What made Durham's four-run fifth especially painful was that it came immediately after the Hens had scored to take an early lead. Curtis Granderson led off the fourth with a single to right off Bulls starter Brian Sweeney, then stole second and raced to third when the pitch to the plate was wild.
One out later Granderson scored when Alexis Gomez doubled to right-center. The next batter, Sandy Martinez, drew a walk, but Sweeney struck out Ryan Raburn and Brandon Harper to end the rally.
Toledo's lead lasted exactly two pitches into the fifth, when Jeff Deardorff hammered a home run to right that tied the contest.
Grilli hit the next hitter, Paul Hoover, with a pitch and walked Joey Gathright one batter later. Grilli then coaxed B.J. Upton to hit a slow roller to third that advanced both runners and set up the battle with Hollins.
"As a hitter, all you want to do up there is battle," Hollins said. "Especially in that situation. You just want to hit the ball hard back up the middle."
The Bulls followed up their four-run fifth with four more runs in the sixth off reliever Craig Dingman. With two outs and runners on first and second, Dingman gave up an RBI single to Luis Ordaz, a run-scoring check-swing double to Gathright, and a two-run double off the left-field wall by Upton.
"Any time you give up four [runs in an inning], it's not good," Parrish said. "We just didn't make quality pitches today and their guys took advantage of it. When we made a mistake, their guys would whack it."
The Hens didn't allow Durham to score again, but the Toledo offense wasn't able to mount a challenge. Gomez and Martinez hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the sixth for the Hens' only other runs.
The Mud Hens had six runners reach base after those home runs but never got anyone past second. Toledo was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position for the game.
"We had some chances," Parrish said. "We had some guys on base late in the ballgame where a ball in the gap could have tightened things up and made it a different ball game. But we couldn't get the big hit today."
The four-game series ends today with a 6:30 p.m. contest. Toledo's Doug Creek will come out of the bullpen to start against Durham's Jimmy Haynes.
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.