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The ride-makers at Cedar Point could learn a thing or two from the white-knuckle journey the Mud Hens took at Fifth Third Field yesterday morning.
Toledo had a six-run lead after six innings - not to mention a four-run lead entering the ninth - but had to hang on for dear life before claiming a 6-5 victory over Charlotte in front of 10,428 screaming fans.
"When you go into the ninth inning with a four-run lead, you expect to finish it off," Hens interim manager Mike Rojas said. "It didn't work out that way, but we ended up getting the win."
Rojas ended up getting tossed in the ninth by plate umpire Scott Barry for arguing balls and strikes.
Yesterday's ride seemed to be going smoothly as the Hens scored single runs in the first and fourth, then added four in the sixth off Charlotte starter Charlie Haeger.
The run producers in that four-run rally were a two-run single to left by Jack Hannahan and sacrifice flies by Mike Hessman and Henry Mateo.
It seemed to be no big deal when the Knights scored a run in the seventh. Toledo starter Zach Miner then opened the eighth by giving up a walk and a single that put runners on the corners, and a sacrifice fly scored a second run.
And that's when the ride started to get a little hairy. Miner got Andy Gonzalez to hit what seemed to be a double-play grounder to shortstop Ramon Santiago, who booted the ball for an error.
Miner then allowed an infield hit to Josh Fields to load the bases, but got a called third strike on Ernie Young with his 116th and final pitch.
Left-hander Ian Ostlund came on and struck out Ryan Sweeney on three pitches to end that threat.
The Hens breathed a sign of relief, only to see a more terrifying twist in the ninth. Ostlund gave up back-to-back singles to Kenny Perez and Casey Rogowski, then walked Kenny Kelly to load the bases.
Anthony Tomey came on and got Gustavo Molina to hit an apparent sacrifice fly to left, only to see Chris Maples drop the ball for an error that kept the bases loaded. Tomey then surrendered back-to-back walks to Jerry Owens and Gonzalez to reload the bases as well as move the game-tying run to third base with none out.
It seemed the ride had become an avalanche poised to crush the Hens as Jeremy Johnson came on to face Fields, who already had three hits on the day and was 8-for-15 in the series. Johnson fell behind 2-0, then came back to eventually get a called third strike on the outside corner.
"I just tried to get ahead of Fields," Johnson said. "Once I had him 3-2, I thought, 'Here it is.' It was a pretty good pitch that could have gone either way, and it went our way this time."
Johnson still had the bases loaded with one out and Young at the plate. The former Hen hit a slow roller to third, and Hessman threw home to get Molina. Johnson made sure the ride had a smooth finish by getting Sweeney to fly out to center, earning just the third save of his career and first at the Triple-A level.
What allowed Johnson to succeed when Ostlund and Tomey had failed?
"Johnson came in and threw strikes," Rojas said. "The guys who came in before struggled to get the ball over the plate. J.J. came in and did the job by getting the strikeout and the force-out. That was huge.
"The odds were against him, but he did a tremendous job and got the save."
Thanks to Miner's strong start, Johnson's big finish and the offense's 10-hit attack, the Mud Hens enter today's off-day having won six of their last seven games.
And what if yesterday's crazy ride had not ended with a win?
"That would have been a real long off-day," Rojas admitted.
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