The Mud Hens' 2007 regular season ended poorly - and controversially.
Columbus scored two unearned runs in the top of the ninth inning to claim a 4-3 victory over the Hens at Fifth Third Field yesterday. What made the loss distasteful was that it didn't have to happen.
"We should have been in here celebrating a win," Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas said afterward. "We lost a tough game that we should have won, but so be it.
"We've got a day off, and then we've got Game 1 [of the playoffs]. And Game 1 is more important than anything else right now. We can't worry about this loss. We've got to start thinking about Game 1."
The Mud Hens led 3-2 in the top of the ninth and were an out away from claiming the victory when reliever Aquilino Lopez got Manny Alexander to hit a popup behind home plate. Catcher Andrew Graham ran toward the backstop, then leaned back toward home as the ball dropped for an error.
"Initially I saw it when it went up, but then I lost it in the sun," Graham admitted. "That's a catch that's got to be made. I've got to make that catch to end the game."
Alexander followed with a single, and Ryan Langerhans then stroked a ball to deep left. The ball was about to hit high off the fence when a fan reached over and caught it.
The umpires ruled that the ball was a home run, though, and Rojas was ejected for argu-ing the incorrect call.
"[The ump] said the ball was clearly over the fence, and I disagreed," Rojas said. "That's all I'm going to say about that."
The ninth inning ruined a fine performance by Chris Lambert, who made his first start for Toledo since coming to Detroit's organization as the player to be named in the Mike Maroth trade.
Lambert struck out 10 Clippers in six innings, almost double his previous season high of six and one shy of his career high. It also marked just the third time a Mud Hens pitcher had struck out at least 10, and the first time since April 22.
"I was a little nervous coming to a new team, but I just tried to go out and attack hitters," Lambert said. "I nibbled a little bit the first two innings, but I tried to be aggressive in the zone, and it turned out well."
Lambert allowed just one hit, a two-out double by Alexander in the fifth, walked two and hit a batter. His effort belied the 1-4 record and 7.49 ERA he had while pitching for Memphis in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League much of this season.
"I was in the bullpen [at Memphis], and I had never been in the bullpen before," Lambert explained. "It was a tough adjustment for me to step in there in a new role against new competition.
"I feel a lot more comfortable as a starter. I feel much more comfortable where I am. Once it started going bad there I lost a lot of confidence, and it started to snowball.
"I was excited to come here and get a new start."
The Mud Hens scored twice with two outs in the first inning as Michael Hollimon drilled a triple to deep right-center and Chris Shelton slammed a two-run homer just to the left of the batter's eye in straight-away center, his 14th home run this season.
David Espinosa used his bat and his legs to produce a run in the seventh. He singled off Clippers reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, then stole second. One out later he was running to third with Chris Maples at the plate. When third baseman Brent Abernathy covered third, Maples slapped a single through the vacated hole to score Espinosa.
"We had enough runs to win," Rojas said. "The offense got us enough runs to take a lead into the ninth. I thought we had some hard-hit balls right at people.
"I think our offense is OK."
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.