Sometimes baseball is a game where the stats tell the story. Sometimes baseball is a game of breaks and inches that numbers could never explain.
The Mud Hens' 4-3 loss to Norfolk last night was a little bit of both.
It would be easy to say that Toledo's 1-for-9 hitting with runners in scoring position was the primary cause of the team's second straight loss, but that would be only half right.
"If I hit the ball a foot higher [in the sixth] we're tied, and if I hit the ball a foot higher to first base [in the eighth] we tie the game and maybe take the lead," the Hens' Ryan Raburn said. "Not much you can do about that."
Raburn's game-changing at-bat came in the eighth with Norfolk clinging to a one-run advantage. David Espinosa led off with a walk off Tides reliever Jim Hoey, and Timo Perez singled to right, sending Espinosa scampering to third.
The next batter, Raburn, fell behind Hoey 1-2 before sending a screaming liner toward first base. If the ball were hit a foot higher, or a foot toward the left, it likely would have been a hit that tied the contest and set the Hens up to take the lead.
But Raburn's laser rocketed right to the glove of Norfolk first baseman Jon Knott, who caught it and tagged out Perez for a double play.
"Their guy was throwing the ball well, so I was just trying to battle, just trying to get something into the outfield to get the tying run in," Raburn said. "Unfortunately I hit it right at the first baseman."
While the Mud Hens didn't take advantage of their opportunities, interim manager Mike Rojas said he liked the way the team kept creating chances.
"We had several chances to win, and we continued to battle for 27 outs," he said. "That's all you can ask for."
The Tides broke on top in the first inning thanks to a two-run homer by J.R. House, his fourth of the season. But the Mud Hens got a run back in the bottom of the first when Espinosa singled, stole second and then just beat a throw to the plate to score on a single by Raburn.
Norfolk added a run in the third thanks to a two-out rally that began with a Torres double off the left-field wall. Hens starter Corey Hamman intentionally walked House, who went 6-for-15 in the series with two homers and six RBIs, to face Mike Cervenak.
Cervenak foiled the strategy by blooping an RBI single to center. Jason DuBois followed with a single to center, but Raburn threw out House at the plate.
The Hens got that run back on Jack Hannahan's third homer of the year with two outs in the fourth.
Both teams scored a run in the sixth, with Norfolk's coming on a two-out single by Knott that plated House. Toledo countered when Perez walked and Raburn doubled - this hit pounding the wall in left-center just a foot shy of home-run distance - to lead off the sixth.
Former Indian Paul Shuey came on and allowed a groundout by Shelton that scored Perez, but Shuey stranded the tying run at third by striking out Mike Hessman and Hannahan.
Norfolk's Cory Doyne earned his league-leading 19th save with a scoreless ninth.
"We've played well, and we've had a good [5-3] homestand," Raburn said.
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