Louisville's Steve Lomasney slides home safely as Hens catcher Brandon Harper waits for the throw. The Hens clinched a playoff spot Saturday night, and it appeared yesterday's day game came a little too soon.
Left field is not the place you want to be at Fifth Third Field. Not during a day game. Not with a relentless, high sun. And not, especially, if you have played just five previous games in the outfield during your entire professional baseball career.
Let's just say that in light of yesterday's 7-6 loss to Louisville, Gookie Dawkins of the Mud Hens probably won't be volunteering for a return appearance anytime soon.
Louisville produced a five-run third inning and put together a winning rally in the eighth as Dawkins struggled with several high, deep fly balls.
But he wasn't alone in his Sunday afternoon follies.
Perhaps that Saturday night celebration by the Hens following a playoff-clinching win went a little too long and a little too late.
Four Toledo pitchers allowed 13 hits - seven of them came with two strikes on the hitters - and certainly were not aided by three errors, two of them on pop flies in the infield. There was also a costly base-running mistake.
"I think some guys had some headaches and some light heads," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said with a sheepish smile. "It would have been better if we hadn't had to turn around and play a day game. It wasn't real good planning. At the least, it could have been overcast for us."
Mud Hens first baseman Jason Smith steals second base as Louisville second baseman Drew Anderson tries to make the tag during the sixth inning yesterday at Fifth Third Field.
It could have been, but wasn't.
And that made it a tough task for Dawkins, a shortstop by trade who answered the call in left field when Parrish gave Marcus Thames a day off.
Dawkins opened the bottom of the third by making a fine play on a ball that caromed off the wall to hold Louisville's Steve Lomasney to a single. But five of the next six batters also got hits to left, two of them going for doubles when Dawkins struggled to pick up the ball and had them fly over his head and off the wall.
"I got a big test today," Dawkins said. "I'd played a couple games out there before, but I hadn't had balls hit at me the way they were today. It's not that difficult to go from the infield to the outfield when it comes to footwork. We've got that down. But tracking the ball off the bat can be a big test.
"I was probably trying too hard. Maybe they were uncatchable, but I tried to pick 'em up and make plays and ended up losing my balance a couple times against the wall."
The Hens came back from that 5-2 deficit to take a 6-5 lead. Dawkins got a measure of revenge with a monster home run over the wall in left-center to open the sixth and the Hens went ahead later that inning on a single and stolen base by Jason Smith followed by a line shot to right by Brandon Harper.
But the Bats came from behind in the eighth with the big blow being a triple by Jeff Bannon off Doug Creek (2-2) that rattled off the wall in left after Dawkins again tried, in vain, to make a play.
Dawkins never was charged with an error, but catcher Harper and first-baseman Smith both failed to cleanly handle high infield pop-ups.
"We had a little trouble anytime the ball was hit in the air today," Parrish said. "We gave them some runs. But it was a tough sky and the wind was swirling some. It was one of those days. Our pitchers didn't locate real well today. We had trouble keeping the ball down."
The Bats, meanwhile, had no trouble hitting those high balls where they could do the most damage and won for just the second time in the last nine games.
"[Louisville] swung the bats well today," Dawkins said. "Our pitchers made some mistakes and we didn't field real well. They took advantage. There are going to be days like that."
Despite the loss, the Hens moved one game closer to clinching the International League's West Division championship due to Indianapolis' 3-2 loss at Columbus. They can wrap up the title tonight in the homestand finale against the Bats with a win and another Indianapolis loss.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.