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Published: 6/9/2007

Mud Hens unable to hang onto lead against Syracuse

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Mud Hens pitcher Virgil Vasquez fanned eight last night to retake the International League lead in strikeouts with 79. Mud Hens pitcher Virgil Vasquez fanned eight last night to retake the International League lead in strikeouts with 79.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

For five innings last night the Mud Hens seemed well on the way toward a sweep of their four-game series with Syracuse, a team that had won its previous nine games before coming to Toledo.

Toledo jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, then took a 5-1 advantage into the fifth.

And then the impossible happened.

OK, it wasn't really impossible. But it certainly was unusual to see the Mud Hens allow Syracuse to score three times in the sixth and two more runs in the seventh.

And that's how the Hens, who had won 17 of their last 22 games before last night, dropped a 6-5 decision to the Chiefs at Fifth Third Field.

"We've been playing well lately, and we played well [last night]," said Mike Hessman, who had two hits and two RBIs. "We pitched pretty well, and we hit the ball all right. They just got a big hit when they needed it."

The Mud Hens broke on top with three runs in the third, and all three scored on one crazy play. Chris Maples led off by drawing a four-pitch walk from Chiefs starter Victor Zambrano, and Dane Sardinha singled Maples to second.

After a fielder's choice put runners on first and third, Henry Mateo slammed a drive into the right-field gap and to the wall. Both runners scored and, as Mateo reached third, Syracuse second baseman Russ Adams let the relay throw skip away for an error that allowed Mateo to score.

The Chiefs got one of those runs back when John-Ford Griffin hit a home run to lead off the fourth, but Toledo scored twice in the fifth as Timo Perez drew a walk and Hessman pounded a home run to deep center.

Hessman's homer was his league-leading 18th this season and gives him 57 RBIs, 11 more than teammate Ryan Raburn who is second.

Hens starter Virgil Vasquez pitched his way into and out of trouble through the first five innings, walking two and giving up five hits to allow baserunners in every inning.

But Vasquez, who struck out eight to reestablish himself as the IL leader in that category with 79 whiffs, stranded six runners until the sixth.

Chad Mattolo led off with a home run to left, and one out later John Hattig doubled to left. Michael Vento then smacked a long home run to left to cut Toledo's lead to a single run.

"Virgil left some pitches up in the zone, and he paid for them," Mud Hens interim manager Mike Rojas said.

The Chiefs won the game in the seventh when Toledo reliever Roman Colon issued a one-out walk to Kevin Barker and a single to Mottola. Then with two outs Hattig doubled into the right-center gap to score both runs.

"We played all right, and we had our opportunities," Hessman said. "If you take away Hattig's hit, that's the ball game."

The Hens seemed poised to re-tie the game in the bottom of the seventh when, with one out and Perez on first, Hessman doubled into the left-field corner. Perez was just reaching third as the ball was thrown back to the infield, but Rojas waved him home and Perez was easily thrown out at the plate.

"It was just a total screw-up by me, and I take full responsibility for that," Rojas admitted. "I took away an RBI opportunity away from [Chris] Shelton."

A double play flattened a potential Hens rally in the eighth, and in the ninth Toledo pushed a runner to third that was eventually stranded.

"We came out and still battled, but we just fell short," Rojas said. "It just wasn't on our side today.

"[A loss is] never easy to digest, especially when I screwed up on that one play. It's not going to be easy to swallow, and it's not going to be easy to sleep."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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