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Published: Monday, 5/26/2008

Hessman set for IL home run history despite Hens loss to Louisville

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
With a single in the sixth inning last night, the Hens' Brent Clevlen extended his on-base streak to 31 consecutive games. With a single in the sixth inning last night, the Hens' Brent Clevlen extended his on-base streak to 31 consecutive games.
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Mike Hessman entered yesterday's game against the Louisville Bats averaging one home run per 9.15 at-bats.

So it's quite conceivable - likely, even - that Hessman will crush one over the fence in the next 13 days. If he does, he'll make history.

Hessman didn't hit any homers last night - not even close - in the Bats' 10-4 victory. He went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts.

But Hessman does have 19 homers through the Hens' first 51 games, and he's trying to become the fastest player to hit 20 homers in an International League season since at least 1981, according to research conducted by The Blade and the IL.

Former Toledo slugger and current Tiger Marcus Thames currently holds that title, having blasted his 20th homer on June 8th, 2004. He hit 24 homers before Detroit promoted him for the rest of that season.

Hens manager Larry Parrish made no secret that he's pulling for his third baseman.

"First of all, I know him," Parrish said before the game. "I know what he's like, what kind of person he is. I know how hard he's worked at the game to get better."

Hessman, 30, the reigning IL most valuable player, is on pace to retain that crown.

"I've been trying to have good, quality at-bats - not try to press and do too much. That's when good things usually happen," Hessman said.

Entering play last night, he led all of professional baseball with 19 homers, and was tops in the IL in runs scored (45), slugging percentage (.713) and extra-base hits. He had also driven in 32 runs and was batting .299.

If he continues on this pace, he will almost certainly become the IL's second back-to-back MVP winner, and first since Roberto Petagine in 1997-98.

Bats manager Rick Sweet said the reason seasons like the one Hessman is having are so rare because major league call-ups usually intervene.

"It's unbelievable that [Hessman] can't fit in the big leagues," Sweet said. "But Detroit supposedly has one of the best offensive clubs in baseball. On most other clubs, he would've gotten a shot."

With the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera in December, Hessman's chances of making the Tigers out of spring training were almost none. Detroit placed him on waivers and no other club claimed him, and Hessman decided to re-sign with the Tigers and head back to Toledo.

Sweet considers Hessman one of the top three defensive third basemen in the IL, and said he would "probably be a starting third baseman in the big leagues right now if he would've signed with almost any other organization."

After three consecutive losses, Sweet's Bats finally got the better of Hessman's Hens. Toledo starting pitcher Jeremy Johnson allowed eight runs in two-plus innings, which were enough to waste homers by Toledo's Jeff Larish and Dane Sardinha.

With an RBI single in the sixth inning, Hens outfielder Brent Clevlen has now reached base in 31 consecutive games - the longest streak of its kind in the IL.

Toledo (33-18) now leads Louisville in the IL West by four games.

The Bats' Andy Green homered twice.

Blade sports writer John Wagner contributed to this report.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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