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The Mud Hens were tickled pink last night.
The Hens started off their six-game homestand with a 2-0 shutout win against Durham in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,903 at Fifth Third Field. They did it while wearing bubble-gum pink jerseys to benefit cancer research.
Steady pitching from starter Jason Grilli secured the victory for the Hens. Grilli gave up five hits, all singles, through eight innings to improve his record to 8-7 with a 3.93 ERA.
"The last couple games we've pitched very well," Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "Tonight Grilli threw a superb game."
Although Grilli had less-than-exquisite accuracy with three walks, he spaced those out and even redeemed himself on one. In the sixth inning after walking Durham shortstop B.J. Upton, he picked him off first base. Grilli also had five strikeouts.
"I had some things working, my sinker was really good," Grilli said.
The Hens improved to 66-41, tops in the International League West division, in the first of a short, two-game series with the Bulls.
They took the lead in the fourth inning when Marcus Thames hit a one-out home run to left. It was Thames' 13th homer of the season.
The Hens padded their lead in the seventh when Alexis Gomez scored Carlos Pena on a sacrifice fly. Mike Hessman had bunted Pena over to third after Pena led off the inning with a double.
"We did a great job of executing," Parrish said. "That was textbook baseball, that inning."
In the top of the inning, Grilli made an impressive recovery. He started off the inning by giving up a single to Delmon Young and walking former Mud Hen Eric Munson, but did not allow another baserunner. After a team huddle on the mound, Grilli struck out former Cleveland Indian Josh Phelps and caused Darnell McDonald and Paul Hoover to fly out.
"I always look at it like it's a puzzle, how am I going to get myself out of this situation?" Grilli said. "All night, I just kept saying, stay low-key and in control and just continue to make your pitches."
Jason Karnuth entered the game in the ninth and got his eighth save of the season. Parrish opted to take Grilli out because he had gone over 100 pitches, and also because Karnuth had not had a save opportunity since before the All-Star Break.
Bulls starter Lance Carter, who was sent down from Tampa Bay on July 25, had six strikeouts in four innings but took the loss. Carter was the Devil Rays' 2003 representative in the All-Star Game and had 26 saves that year. He is 0-2 since the demotion.
The Bulls fell to 46-62 and are in second place in the International League South.
NOTES: On the Mud Hens' road trip last week, they twice lost three consecutive games. Before that the Hens hadn't lost more than two straight games since April 16-18, when they also lost three in a row. ... Entering today's games, Toledo has spent 38 consecutive days in first place in the International League West. ... Not many runners were safe on the base paths last night. In addition to Grilli's pickoff, four runners between the two teams were caught stealing. ... The sellout was the 20th of the season at Fifth Third Field and the 97th in the history of the ballpark. ... The game, played in 2 hours, 8 minutes, was the Hens' shortest nine-inning outing of the season.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.