The Mud Hens started steeling themselves for a pennant race with a tight 2-1 victory over Richmond at Fifth Third Field last night.
Toledo used a strong performance from starting pitcher Virgil Vasquez and the bullpen to shut down the Braves, who came to town having won six straight, for the second consecutive night.
With the win, the Hens fourth in their last five contests, Toledo claimed the best record in the International League and moved seven games ahead of second-place Indianapolis, which lost to Charlotte.
These are fun games to watch, Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas said of the current homestand, which has included four games decided by two runs or less. The intensity level is very high. One big pitch, one big play, one big hit can win you the game or lose the game.
It s fun to watch a tight game like that.
In the second inning, Chris Shelton slammed a 1-2 pitch from Richmond starter Lance Cormier onto the batter s eye in straight-away center for a 1-0 lead. It was his 11th home run of the season and second homer in as many days.
Richmond tied the game in the top of the third on an RBI single by Pete Orr. That third inning started a trend for Richmond, which put its leadoff man on base in each of the final seven innings.
When you re pitching in a close game, you have to attack hitters even more and put them in pitcher s counts, Vasquez said. They did a great job of getting the leadoff guy on, but we made some great defensive plays.
Vasquez struggled with his control in the fourth, when he threw 20 pitches but only eight strikes. He escaped trouble and finished with just three hits and two walks allowed in six innings to improve to 10-3.
I threw a lot of pitches and fell behind a lot of guys, Vasquez said of the fourth. I figured it out between innings and made the adjustment. I wasn t lifting my leg high enough, and my arm was dragging.
All I could throw for strikes was sliders, but I got out of [the inning] and threw a couple more zeroes.
Toledo reliever Eulogio De La Cruz dodged a two-on, none-out pickle in the seventh, and Fernando Rodney allowed a leadoff double in the eighth before shutting down the R-Braves, the last out coming when center fielder Brent Clevlen made a fine running catch to retire Brayan Pena.
Aquilino Lopez set down Richmond without incident in the ninth to claim his 18th save.
It s like we re not worrying about the wins and the losses, Vasquez said. We re just going after them one pitch at a time. And whatever happens is going to happen.
When you re playing relaxed and you re playing confident and you re playing with poise, everyone does their job.
The Mud Hens scored the winning run when Dane Sardinha led off the sixth with a line-drive home run off the base of the scoreboard in left. It was his fourth homer of the year.
The Mud Hens finished with just eight hits in scoring four runs or less for the 10th time in 13 games, but Rojas remained confident in his offense.
It s one more [run] than them, and that s all that counts, he said. If it takes one hit or two hits or 12 hits to win, I feel that s what we re going to get.
NOTES: Before yesterday s game the parent Tigers called up right-hander Jordan Tata, who will start for Detroit tonight in Oakland in place of Kenny Rogers, who went on the disabled list with inflammation in his pitching elbow. Right-hander Ron Chiavacci will start for the Mud Hens in place of Tata. Henry Mateo extended his current hitting streak to 10 games with a double in the eighth. A white cat found its way onto Fifth Third Field with the Mud Hens batting in the sixth, delaying the game for several minutes.
Contact John Wagner at:email@example.com 419-724-6481.