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Published: Saturday, 9/17/2005

Picture-perfect year for IL champion Mud Hens

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLDE SPORTS WRITER
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish and outfielder Marcus Thames celebrate Toledo s first Governors  Cup championship in 38 years following a 3-0 sweep of Indianapolis.Just a year ago, the Mud Hens had the worst record in the International League.
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish and outfielder Marcus Thames celebrate Toledo s first Governors Cup championship in 38 years following a 3-0 sweep of Indianapolis.Just a year ago, the Mud Hens had the worst record in the International League.
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From players who started learning the game of baseball in kindergarten to a manager who played 15 years in the big leagues, the Toledo Mud Hens 2005 season was the pinnacle of their careers.

For good reason. On Thursday night the Mud Hens won the Governors Cup, the International League championship, for the first time since 1967. They finished the regular season with a league-best 89-55 record. Their .618 winning percentage was the fifth-best in Toledo baseball history and the best since 1944.

It s been the best pleasure I ve ever had in the game, managing these guys, Hens manager Larry Parrish said.

Parrish was named IL manager of the year for bringing the team from the worst record in the league a year ago to the top this season. The Hens were the first IL team in 41 years to accomplish that feat.

The Hens defeated the Norfolk Tides three games to two in the semifinal series, then swept the Indianapolis Indians in the best-of-five finals. Previously, the Hens had not won a playoff game since 1980.

The team came through like nothing I ve seen before, pitcher Andrew Good said. Everyone came up with big hits, and I m so proud of this team.

The Hens got to the postseason by winning the IL West division, beating out second-place Indianapolis by 11 games. They took the division lead on June 23 and never looked back. They clinched a playoff spot on Aug. 27 and won the division on Aug. 29.

The Hens won seven of their first eight games, including the home opener at Fifth Third Field April 15. Their longest winning streak of the season was nine games, which they achieved going into the All-Star break. Another impressive stint happened on the road, when the Hens won 12 consecutive games away from home from June 20-July 22. They never lost more than three games in a row.

Good, Kenny Baugh, and Jason Grilli were strong, consistent starting

pitchers. Baugh and Grilli tied for a team-high 12 wins, and Good had nine. In the bullpen, the star was Jason Karnuth, with 23 saves. The pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the IL at 3.70. Hens hurlers combined for 15 shutouts.

The lineup changed throughout the season, but a star always emerged. Center fielder Curtis Granderson, the top prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, hit .290 with a team-record13 triples in the leadoff spot before being called up for good to Detroit on Aug. 15. He was named to the IL postseason all-star team.

When the Hens had Marcus Thames batting third in the lineup and Carlos Pena hitting cleanup, it was one of the most feared power punches in the league. Thames hit .340 with 22 home runs and 56 RBIs, and in Pena s three months as the Hens first baseman he hit .311 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Pena and other former Hens who finished the season in Detroit remembered their ties to the team after they left Toledo. Pena, Chris Spurling, and Vic Darensbourg came back and sat in the dugout for Game 5 of the Hens Governors Cup semifinal series against Norfolk.

The team s closeness showed as the season progressed. The Hens won 50 games at home including the playoffs and entertained their fans in more ways than with victories. Led by utility man Kevin Hooper, the teammates instituted a victory dance before each game where they bounced around in a huddle.

I ve been playing since I was 5 years old, and even with guys I grew up with I didn t have this much fun, catcher Brandon Harper said.

The success of the team helped set a new attendance record at Fifth Third Field.

On opening night, the park had a record 12,500 fans. New additions to the ballpark such as the video board in right field and the Coop-a-Cabana party area helped the attendance mark climb to 556,995, almost 10,000 more than the field s inaugural season in 2002.

It s been tremendous on every level, general manager Joe Napoli said. The fans in the community were outstanding, we outdrew every other community in the International League by a 3-to-1 margin. The last few games at Fifth Third Field showed it. The emotion of the team translated to the fans and vice versa.

Contact Maureen Fulton at:mfulton@theblade.com or 419-724-6160.



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