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Published: Tuesday, 9/19/2006

Mud Hens and Sidewinders will still try to win it

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ryan Ludwick, elated after the Mud Hens' IL title victory, has Bricktown experience. Ryan Ludwick, elated after the Mud Hens' IL title victory, has Bricktown experience.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - No one playing in the Triple-A championship really knows why they're here.

But, since they are here, they think they might as well try to win.

Before the season, the Toledo Mud Hens and Tucson Sidewinders set goals - to win their leagues. The euphoria that came with the championships clinched over the weekend was still evident yesterday as the teams worked out at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in preparation for tonight's "Bricktown Showdown."

The Hens, International League champions, and the Sidewinders, the Pacific Coast League champions, are the guinea pigs for the inaugural event.

"It's a decent idea," Hens pitcher Jason Karnuth said. "Some [players] are in more favor of it than others, but it's not a big deal."

But most see the game, starting tonight at 7, as an exhibition.

"If you're trying to determine an overall champion, you have to play at least five to seven games," Tucson catcher Robby Hammock said.

"I don't think it will determine a true champion," Tucson manager Chip Hale said.

The teams are laid-back with the pressure of the playoffs behind them, but Hale said he thinks that will change come tonight.

"You can say all you want about, oh, I want to be here, I want to be there, but once that game starts you'regoing to see the best of both teams," he said.

Hens outfielder Ryan Ludwick, for one, has uttered some strong words that need backing up. Ludwick played for the Oklahoma Redhawks, Texas' Triple-A team, in 2002 and 2003, and hit 32 home runs with the club. He told his team that Bricktown Ballpark was the "House that Lud Built."

"After everything he's told us, I think he's good for at least a few homers," Hens manager Larry Parrish said.

Right-hander Eulogio De La Cruz will start for the Hens, his third playoff start. He's 1-1 with a 5.73 ERA in the playoffs. De La Cruz's first start against Charlotte was stellar, but he did not repeat the performance in Game 3 against Rochester.

"He's got a great future in the game," Hens pitching coach Jeff Jones said. "He's made tremendous progress in the last two years. He pitched a great game for us down in Charlotte when we needed him. Dominated the game, really. He probably could have beaten a big-league club that night."

Right-hander Micah Owings will start for the Sidewinders. Owings was 10-0 once he was called up to the PCL in mid-season. He made two starts in the playoffs and was 0-0 with a 1.35 ERA.

Owings could be able to combat the Hens' main form of attack, considering he allowed just eight home runs in 162 innings this season.

"You look at [Toledo's] numbers, it's very impressive," Hale said. "It will be a great test for him."

The teams had planned to take batting practice on the field yesterday, but an unexpected heavy rainfall drenched the field early Sunday morning, so crews were working on the infield all afternoon. The Hens retreated to the outfield instead, beginning their workout with a game of hacky-sack.

"It's going to be fun," Ludwick said. "Hopefully we can come out and do what we've done all year, leave with a victory."

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

TARTA will operate shuttle bus service to the rally tomorrow evening at Fifth Third Field celebrating the Mud Hens' second consecutive International League championship.

The "Muddy Shuttle" buses will depart from 12 Park-and-Ride lots at 5:15 p.m. for the rally, which is scheduled to start at 6:15 and continue through

7:30. The fare is $1 for individuals or $2 for groups of up to five people. Return trips will leave the ballpark 20 minutes after the rally's conclusion.



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