The Mud Hens had no need for late-game heroics to beat Indianapolis last night.
Toledo scored four runs in the opening inning and built up a nine-run advantage before cruising to a 9-1 win over the Indians at Fifth Third Field. The victory gave the Hens a sweep of the four-game set featuring the two top teams in the International League's West Division.
And after three games filled with tension and excitement that forced the Hens to produce game-winning rallies in their final at-bat, last night's contest was a welcome rest for the nerves.
"Those past three games didn't come easy, that's for sure," said Mike Hessman, who had a season-high five RBIs last night. "It's nice to get one where you can get in a groove, and a pitcher can get in a groove.
"It was nice to get one with a little more ease."
Toledo now has won its last four in a row and seven of its last eight to claim the best record in Triple-A baseball.
The Hens ripped off four quick runs in the opening inning off Indianapolis starter Bryan Bullington, who was making his first start since June 10. Eight of Bullington's first nine pitches were balls as Ramon Santiago and Kevin Hooper drew walks and, after a groundout, Ryan Raburn drew a walk that loaded the bases.
Bullington, the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, seemed poised to escape trouble when he struck out Chris Shelton. But on a 3-2 pitch Hessman smashed a line drive down the third-base line for a double that cleared the bases, and Jack Hannahan blooped a single to center that scored Hessman.
"If [Bullington] gets out of that, it's probably a totally different ball game," Hens interim manager Mike Rojas admitted. "But 'Hess' battled to get a pitch, and he put a good swing on it. That set the tone."
The Mud Hens added a pair of runs in the third, stringing together four more hits and knocking Bullington out of the game. With one out Shelton singled, then moved to second as Hessman walked.
Reliever Jesse Chavez gave up an RBI single to the first batter he faced, Hannahan, then gave up a two-out run-scoring single to Dane Sardinha.
Toledo added three runs in the sixth, scoring one on a bases-loaded wild pitch by Kevin Gryboski that came in front of a two-run single by Hessman.
Five of the Hens' nine runs were scored by batters who reached base with walks.
"Walks kill you when you're on defense," Rojas said. "It's a huge plus when the guys that walk score. Those are quality at-bats, because they show you how well guys are hitting.
"They're not swinging at bad pitches, and they're going focused on their [hitting] zone."
The nine runs were more than enough for Mud Hens starter Yorman Bazardo, who scattered four hits in seven scoreless innings to claim his fourth consecutive victory.
The closest the Indians came to scoring off Bazardo was in the third, when with two outs Don Kelly walked and Russ Johnson beat out an infield single. But Bazardo got Matt Kata to ground out and promptly retired nine of the following 10 batters he faced.
"Right now my mechanics are more consistent, so I'm staying around the [strike] zone," Bazardo said. "All of my pitches are working because my mechanics have been the same."
Of course, it didn't hurt that Bazardo pitched most of the night with a comfortable cushion.
"To know that you have some runs, and to know that you have a good defense behind you, makes you go after hitters," Bazardo said. "That's one thing I was doing - getting hitters to go after the first pitch to keep my pitch-count down."
Preston Larrison allowed a run in the eighth on an RBI single by Luis Ordaz, but Santiago at shortstop snagged a sizzling shot off Johnson's bat and turned it into an inning-ending double play.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.