For Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin, the decision was do or die.
Nevin sent pinch-runner Kevin Russo home from third base on an infielder grounder, and Russo knocked the ball out of the glove of Columbus catcher Roberto Perez to score the winning run in Toledo’s 3-2 win in 11 innings Friday.
“You want them to make a play,” Nevin said. “You send them, and you hope for the best.
“And we got the best that time.”
Mike Cervenak opened the 11th with a single, and Russo came in to pinch-run for him. One out later Ben Guez singled Russo to third.
Ronny Paulino hit a grounder to third, and while Ryan Rohlinger’s throw to the plate beat Russo, Russo was able to knock the ball free and score the winning run.
“I was going [home] on a ground ball to keep a double play from happening,” Russo said. “I just went in as hard as I could. He caught the ball, and I was sliding-slash-going-through-him.
“I thought I was out at first. Then I saw the ball on the ground, so I went back and touched home plate.”
The win in Toledo’s third straight extra-inning game gave the Hens an 8-13 record in extra innings this season.
“You have it in your head to play nine innings,” Russo said. “Then when you go to extras, some guys try to do too much.
“But extra innings happens. You never know when the big play is going to happen, so you have to keep going and play things out.”
Friday’s game was scoreless until the sixth. Jordan Lennerton led off by doubling on a ball down the left-field line that almost hit Clippers outfielder Chun Chen after he overran it, and Nick Castellanos hammered his 17th home run of the season.
Blaine Hardy made that stand up through six innings, allowing just four hits and two walks in his third consecutive scoreless start.
“He went 22 scoreless innings to end the season, and that’s pretty good,” Nevin said of Hardy. “He has been a tremendous find for this organization. He has impressed me.
“Once he got that fastball command down, he pitched very well here.”
Columbus nicked Octavio Dotel for a run in the seventh. Dotel, who is on a rehab assignment with the Hens, surrendered a walk and a single sandwiched around a strikeout before leaving with a 2-0 count to batter Ezequiel Carrera.
Nevin said after the game that Dotel experienced a “cramp” in his forearm and was taken out as a precaution. Dotel will be evaluated further today.
Darin Downs replaced Dotel and finished the walk to Carrera to load the bases, then gave up a sacrifice fly to Tim Fedroff before getting the final out.
In the top of the ninth Toledo closer Jose Ortega saw the lead vanish when Rohlinger slammed his first pitch over the fence in left for a game-tying homer, Rohlinger’s fifth round-tripper this season.
NOTES: Before the game the Mud Hens placed pitcher Robbie Weinhardt on the disabled list with forearm soreness. Jess Todd was activated from the disabled list to take his spot on the roster.