Some smart-alecs have christened this series between the Mud Hens and Gwinnett as the “Battle of the Basement,” since the two teams began this series tied for the worst record in the International League.
Toledo holds that distinction by itself as a late-inning implosion by Jose Ortega allowed the Braves to claim a 4-2 victory Saturday.
Gwinnett, which scored three times in the eighth inning as Ortega walked three and hit another batter, now has won 13 straight times at Fifth Third Field.
“He just had a bad night,” Toledo manager Phil Nevin said of Ortega, who came into the game with a 1.06 ERA this season. “He’s been one of the best relievers in this league all season long — look at the numbers.
“There’s not a batter in this league who wants to face him. … He just had a rough night, and that happens. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
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Ortega’s eighth-inning struggles began when he gave up a leadoff double to Ernesto Mejia. After a strikeout, Ortega hit a batter and walked the next to load the bases. A walk on a 3-2 pitch forced home the tying run, then a four-pitch walk gave Gwinnett the lead.
Evan Reed came on and got a forceout at home, then surrendered a walk to force home a third run before getting the final out.
That effort undid some fine work by spot starter Jon Link, who threw five scoreless innings of three-hit ball, getting nine of his 15 outs with ground balls while striking out three and walking one.
“He was tremendous — he threw a lot of strikes and had good stuff,” Nevin said of Link. “I didn’t think we were going to get five [innings] out of him, to be honest with you, but his pitch count was down and he felt good.”
Luke Putkonen wiggled out of a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth before giving up a run in the seventh on an RBI single by Todd Cunningham. With runners on first and third, Matt Hoffman came on and got Alden Carrithers to ground out.
The bullpen wasn’t completely to blame for the Hens’ third straight loss and seventh in the last nine contests. Toledo had runners on base in all but two innings, but were 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 13 on base.
Their two runs came in the sixth on a two-out RBI double by Ronny Paulino and a run-scoring single by Argenis Diaz.
Toledo tried to come back in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with two outs before Hernan Perez hit a sharp grounder down the first-base line that Mejia grabbed with a dive to end the threat.
“Mejia made a great play — if he doesn’t get that, it’s a different game,” Nevin said. “Perez had a tremendous at-bat.
"With one big hit, we’re not talking about the other at-bats.”
NOTES: Perez returned to the Toledo lineup after leaving Friday’s game early. Perez left Friday after his wife, who is seven months pregnant, was involved in an auto accident outside the ballpark. Both mother and the unborn baby are fine. … Saturday’s crowd of 11,500 was the Mud Hens 28th sellout this season and the 355th full house in Fifth Third Field history.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.