DURHAM, N.C. - It slipped away with dramatic suddenness.
Toledo, battling for the lead in the International League's West Division, saw a two-run lead in the seventh inning evaporate in just two pitches last night. Normally reliable reliever Chris Spurling (1-4) gave up an RBI single and a two-run homer to turn a 7-5 lead into an 8-7 loss to the Durham Bulls.
"He's been good for us," Toledo manager Larry Parrish said of the veteran right-hander. Indeed, Spurling had been perfect in his three previous appearances, retiring 12 batters in that stretch without allowing a baserunner.
But Spurling was not the only pitcher abused on a hot night with the wind blowing out toward the short left-field fence. The teams combined for four home runs and three doubles.
"This ballpark can play small, especially to left field and left-center," Parrish said. "You keep the ball down and you can pitch anywhere, but if you elevate it here and youre in trouble."
Durham starter Jim Magrane got one elevated to Toledo third baseman Mike Hessman, who lofted a towering solo shot over the 371-foot mark in left-center to open the third inning. Catcher Mike Rabelo added a three-run shot in the fourth inning, barely clearing the fence in right-center - just at the 379-foot sign.
The Bulls answered when outfielder Rodney Nye, a late fill-in for controversial prospect Delmon Young, provided some unexpected power against Toledo starter Jordan Tata. Nye came to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the third inning and launched a line drive to dead center that was just beyond the reach of a diving Ryan Raburn. The effort appeared to stun the Toledo center fielder, and Nye raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run before right fielder Ryan Ludwick could retrieve the ball.
Nye drove in his third run of the game with a single in the fifth.
But the Mud Hens, getting a two-run double from designated hitter Josh Phelps in the fifth, still led 7-5 when Spurling marched in to relieve John Ennis with two outs in the seventh and a man on third. Wes Bankston's single quickly cut the lead to one and on Spurling's very next pitch, Durham's Ty Wigginton lofted a fastball over the big blue wall in left.
That made a winner of Durham reliever Jose Rodriguez (4-2), although closer Edwin Jackson, who struck out the side in the top of the ninth, was more impressive.
While Parrish wasn't happy with the late long-ball, he was more upset by his team's failure to capitalize on some early opportunities. He pointed to Tata's error on a soft comebacker in the third inning that set the stage for Nye's inside-the-park blast and for the back-to-back strikeouts in the sixth after the Mud Hens had loaded the bases with one out.
"We didn't put the ball in play," Parrish said. "That hurt."
The loss in the first game of the team's final road trip of the season also hurts.
The Mud Hens fell half a game behind Indianapolis in the West Division and fell into a second-place tie with Louisville, which beat Norfolk
NOTES: The Mud Hens will conclude the two-game series in Durham tonight when right-hander Brian Boehringer (2-0, 6.89 ERA) takes the mound against Bulls left-hander Chris Seddon (9-7, 4.92 ERA). ... The Hens' Chris Shelton had his 11-game hitting streak snapped.