Although the Toledo Mud Hens finished 11 games ahead of the Indianapolis Indians in the division standings, when the teams sparred this season it was a toss-up.
In the 16 games played between the International League West Division clubs, each team won eight. Both teams went 5-3 at home against the other.
"It was like a rivalry this year," Hens outfielder Dewayne Wise said. "We'll go to their place, they'll beat up on us. They come here, we beat up on them."
The Hens host the Indians tonight at 6:30 in the first game of the Governors' Cup Championship at Fifth Third Field. The first two games of the best-of-five IL title series are in Toledo, with the third, fourth, and fifth, if necessary, at Indianapolis' Victory Field. In the International League, home-field advantage in the playoffs rotates each year and is not based on regular-season record.
The Hens' only International League championship was in 1967. Indianapolis, the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate, has two IL titles, the most recent in 2000.
To advance to the championship, the wild-card Indians won three games on the road at Buffalo after falling behind 0-2 in the semifinal series. Catcher Ronny Paulino hit a three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning of Game 5 to put the Indians ahead. It was the first time since 1984 that an IL team came back from two games down to win on the road.
"It's probably going to come down to the last game like this one did," second baseman Ryan Raburn said after the Hens beat Norfolk in Game 5 Sunday night.
Tonight the Hens will start righty Andrew Good against the Indians' Bryan Bullington. Bullington, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, was 9-5 in the regular season with a 3.38 earned-run average.
The Hens faced Bullington two weeks ago, in the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 31, and hit two home runs off him, scoring four runs in five innings.
Good has pitched against the Indians three times this season, going 2-0. He pitched against them in the first game on Aug. 31, yielding no runs and three hits in six innings of work.
Hitters who were key for the teams in the regular season are coming through in the postseason. Hens outfielder Marcus Thames is hitting .438 (7-for-16) in the playoffs with two home runs and five RBIs. Cleanup hitter Graham Koonce, the Indians' first baseman, is hitting .474 (9-for-19) with a home run, three doubles and three RBIs.
In tomorrow's Game 2, Toledo's Kenny Baugh will face lefty Thomas Gorzelanny, who was called up this week from Double-A Altoona (Pa.). In Game 3 Jason Grilli will match up against left-hander Michael Connolly.
"We've been putting together a lot of big wins," Wise said. "Hopefully we can go out there and finish what we did in the regular season."
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