Toledo Mud Hens pitcher Adam Wilk fires in a shot against the Louisville Bats in the first inning at Fifth Third Field, Saturday.
Well, the Mud Hens didn't give up 10 runs Saturday night, as they had in the previous three games.
But in many ways Toledo's 8-4 loss to Louisville at Fifth Third Field was far more painful.
In Saturday's setback the Hens saw a 4-0 lead dissipate in two terrible innings, a three-run eighth that got the Bats back into the contest and a spirit-crushing five-run ninth that ties the two teams at 42-67, the worst record in the International League.
Louisville's late comeback exposed a Toledo bullpen that has been pushed to the max the previous four games, covering more than 17 of the team's last 24 innings.
"It happened quick," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said of the Bats' late comeback.
"We've asked a lot of everyone in that bullpen -- they've had to get a lot of outs and throw a lot of pitches the last few days.
"[Luis] Marte and [Chris] Bootcheck have had to throw a heck of a lot outside their normal role because we haven't done our job on the front end."
Marte came on in the eighth with the Hens leading 4-0 and a runner on third base. Before he could get the final two outs of the inning he gave up four hits that cut the lead to 4-3.
In the ninth Bootcheck got two outs before giving up a game-tying single to Neftali Soto, then a grand slam to Cody Puckett two batters later that put the game out of reach.
The meltdown resulted in a tough-luck loss for starter Adam Wilk, who gave up just five hits in seven shutout innings. He gave the Mud Hens a chance to win, and he did so while limiting the number of innings the bullpen needed to cover.
"Adam was just outstanding," Nevin said. "The luck he's had this year -- I don't know what the guy has to do to get a win.
"He knew the situation with our bullpen, and what we've gone through the past three days. For him to go out and do what he did was just outstanding. It was unfortunate we couldn't get that win for him."
Before the game Nevin said Wilk was under pressure to go deep in the game because of the wear and tear the bullpen had suffered in Columbus.
"Put away the innings pitched -- they have thrown a lot of pitches," Nevin said. "I'm not going to hurt anybody. This is about player development, about pitchers learning about becoming big-league pitchers.
"You have to be careful. It's not just about winning a baseball game; you have to care about these guys. And we have to do that.
"We're not completely healthy out there, so this is a big start for Adam Wilk."
While Wilk was shutting out the Bats, the Mud Hens staked him to an early lead. With two outs in the first inning Andy Dirks drew a walk from Louisville starter Sean Gallagher, and John Lindsey followed with a long home run to left-center, his seventh with Toledo.
But Gallagher held the Hens in check after Lindsey's homer, retiring 12 of the next 14 batters until the sixth. In that inning Gallagher hit Justin Henry with a pitch and walked Danny Worth, and two outs later Danny Dorn made him pay with a two-run double off the fence in right against his former team.
But after that Gallagher and reliever Jordan Smith retired the Hens' final 10 hitters, opening the door for the Bats' comeback.
"We had a tough stretch for four innings or so," Nevin admitted. "Dorn hit the ball hard, but otherwise there weren't a lot of hard-hit balls.
"When you have a team down like that, the add-on runs are the big ones.
"You get the two in the sixth and you're feeling pretty good. But they came out and swung the bats the last two innings."
NOTES: Andy Dirks went 0-for-3 with a walk in four plate appearances as he continues his rehab assignment with the Hens. … Saturday's crowd of 11,500 was the Mud Hens' 18th sellout this season. It also was Toledo's fifth in a row and 315th in Fifth Third Field history.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.
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