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Published: Tuesday, 9/2/2008

Mud Hens finish year with victory

BY JARROD ULREY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

COLUMBUS - It wasn't an obvious formula for a pitcher's duel when the Mud Hens sent out Virgil Vasquez to the mound to face the Columbus Clippers' Tyler Clippard for last night's season finale.

Both pitchers entered with ERAs around 5.00, but the first six innings were filled with strikeouts and little offensive opportunity for either team.

Toledo finally seized its best chance in the seventh in the midst of a scoreless tie when it put together three runs on four hits and spoiled Columbus' final game in Cooper Stadium before 16,770 with a 3-0 victory.

The win represented retribution of sorts for Toledo, which lost to the Clippers 13-12 in the final game at Skeldon Stadium in 2001. The Clippers move into Huntington Park in downtown Columbus next year.

The Mud Hens finished second in the International League's West Division at 75-69 as Vasquez tossed a complete game to earn his 12th victory.

Columbus suffered its third consecutive losing season, ending up 69-73.

"I've played a lot of games here, and I've got a lot of good memories here," said shortstop Erick Almonte, who played for Columbus from 2001-03 as a member of the Yankees' organization. "I've seen Clippard before, and he just made some pitches and got ahead in the count. We were lucky to get a couple runs off of him."

The Mud Hens overcame a season-high 10 strikeouts from Clippard, who had gone winless in his last eight starts but gave up just two hits over the first six innings.

In the seventh, Mike Hessman opened with a double and scored the game's first run on a double by Dusty Ryan.

Almonte then slammed one to right-center that went into the stands for a ground-rule double. Kody Kirkland singled to center to drive in Almonte for the final run.

The Mud Hens loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth against reliever Jim Ed Warden, but all three runners were left stranded.

Vasquez outdueled Clippard, giving up just five hits and one walk.

It was a positive finish to an up-and-down season for the 26-year-old right-hander, who tossed a four-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over Norfolk on Aug. 11 but gave up four or more runs in each of his next three starts.

The other pitchers on the staff joked with Vasquez the day before his start that it was his job to make it a "no bullpen" night.

He certainly delivered.

"It was the last game of the season, and everyone was ready to go," Vasquez said. "My catcher [Max St-Pierre] called a great game, and I just kept attacking them. It was a good way to end the season. It was a great atmosphere. You feed off the crowd even though they're against you."

Through the first five innings, the only hits Toledo mustered were a double by Almonte in the second and a single by Kirkland in the third.

Toledo left Almonte stranded at second, and Kirkland was thrown out trying to steal.

Before the game, the Clippers brought out dozens of people who have been associated with Cooper Stadium since it opened in 1932 and even saluted Mud Hens Blaine Neal and Hessman for their participation on the U.S. Olympic team.

"[Vasquez] threw well tonight, and it was a night when everybody was free-swinging," manager Larry Parrish said. "He threw strikes and mixed it up. Both guys threw well, and there were a lot of strikeouts.

"I enjoyed [the ceremony] before the game. There were a bunch of guys I hadn't seen for a while. I got hits off a bunch of those guys they introduced."



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