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Published: 7/13/2006

Winning with Witt

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Kevin Witt, a former Mud Hen who now plays first base for the Durham Bulls, high-fives Louisville's Chris Denorfia (20) after hitting a two-run homer in the third inning to help get the International League off and running to a Triple-A All-Star win. Kevin Witt, a former Mud Hen who now plays first base for the Durham Bulls, high-fives Louisville's Chris Denorfia (20) after hitting a two-run homer in the third inning to help get the International League off and running to a Triple-A All-Star win.
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Durham's Kevin Witt of the International League swings at a pitch against Nashville's Ben Hendrickson of the Pacific Coast League in the fourth inning of last night's Triple-A All-Star Game. Durham's Kevin Witt of the International League swings at a pitch against Nashville's Ben Hendrickson of the Pacific Coast League in the fourth inning of last night's Triple-A All-Star Game.
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The International League lines up on the third-base line at Fifth Third Field for the Triple-A All-Star Game as the National Anthem is sung by Art Joslin, a soloist with the Toledo Opera. The International League lines up on the third-base line at Fifth Third Field for the Triple-A All-Star Game as the National Anthem is sung by Art Joslin, a soloist with the Toledo Opera.
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Winning with Witt

Former Mud Hen powers IL victory

Kevin Witt might have had one eye on last night's ominous looking sky, and an airline ticket in his back pocket, but that did not take his concentration off the business at hand in the ProMedica Health System All-Star Game at Fifth Third Field.

The former Mud Hen and current first baseman for the Durham Bulls ripped three hits, including a two-run home run, to lead the International League to a 6-0 win over the Pacific Coast League in the annual gathering of Triple-A all-stars.

"In this kind of game, you know the pitchers are going to be aggressive, so it makes sense to come up there ready to swing," Witt said. "It pays to be aggressive at the plate, so that's the approach I took, and I was glad things worked out the way they did."

All-day rains and a hard shower just before game time left the players holding their collective breath and hoping to avoid a rain delay or a postponement, since they have regular season games tonight at sites scattered across the country. Witt, who had scheduled a mid-morning flight back to North Carolina and has a home game in Durham tonight against Columbus, said he was swinging away, but not with any particular sense of urgency.

"I took the same game plan that everyone else has taken - to go up there, get a pitch, and let it go," said Witt, who did a short stint with Toledo early in the 2003 season, and then spent 93 games that year in Detroit with the Tigers. "That's kind of what I do anyway. Luckily for me it worked out."

Witt's three hits and three runs batted in earned him the game's MVP award, and led an IL attack that featured nine hits and three home runs. At the same time, the IL pitching staff was limiting the PCL stars to just two hits, which tied a record for the lowest amount by a team in an All-Star Game. That made the night a breeze for IL manager Larry

Parrish of the Mud Hens.

"Our guys threw pretty well out there, and that makes it a little easier when you are trying to get everybody in, but holding them like that - that's kind of unexpected," Parrish said. "With the kind of hitters they have over there, you don't expect a shutout."

Playing in front of a standing-room only crowd of 11,300, IL pitchers retired the first 14 batters in order. The perfect string was broken in the top of the fifth inning by Justin Leone's two-out double off the wall in left.

Mud Hen Chad Durbin then retired James Loney to get out of the inning.

Loney singled in the eighth for the PCL's only other hit, but the IL lineup spent most of the night hammering away. After a base hit and a throwing error put two aboard in the third inning, Nashville pitcher Ben Hendrickson served up a wild pitch to Joe Thurston that scored Jorge Velandia for a 1-0 IL lead.

After Thurston fanned and Josh Fields popped out in foul territory, Witt blasted a drive 400 feet over the wall in right center to make it a 3-0 advantage.

The IL stars made it 4-0 in the fifth when Chris Denorfia slapped a ball through the right side for a base hit, moved to second on a groundout, then scored on Witt's opposite field double off the wall in left center.

"Witt - wow, what a night," Parrish said. "He played here, so the fans are familiar with him, and you couldn't script it any better than that."

Back-to-back home runs by Kevin Barker of Syracuse and the Mud Hens' Ryan Raburn stretched the lead to 6-0 in the seventh.

"The pitchers are gonna be aggressive since they know they'll get just an inning, maybe two," Parrish said. "And the hitters know they'll get a couple at-bats, so you look to see an aggressive night all the way around."

PCL manager Mike Jirschele of Omaha said his hitters used the same approach, but failed to get the same results.

"Our guys were real aggressive, and we made a lot of first-pitch outs," Jirschele said. "They were here to swing the bats, and that's what they did."

Witt said now he'll find it a lot easier to return to Durham since that long home run last night bailed him out after a disappointing performance in Monday night's ProMedica Health System Home Run Derby.

Although he leads all of minor league baseball with 23 homers at the break, Witt hit just two in that competition.

"This is redemption for me," Witt said. "I caught a lot of heat for not performing in the Home Run Derby, so hopefully this will make my teammates back in Durham give me a little better welcome when I come back home."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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