When the Mud Hens came back from their three-day All-Star Break, Brandon Douglas went from locker to locker to talk to his teammates.
“I told them, ‘The playoff push starts today,’” Douglas said. “I was surprised by the response: Everyone was on board with it and believed it.
“I thought a few guys might chuckle, but it was completely the opposite.”
The Mud Hens’ actions since the break certainly back up those words as Toledo completed a five-game sweep of Louisville with a 4-2 victory Sunday at Fifth Third Field.
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And the hitting hero for the third straight night was Douglas, who snapped a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh by lining a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line off Bats reliever Elvin Ramirez.
“He started me out with a first-pitch slider, and I fouled it down the right-field line,” Douglas said. “So I was sitting dead slider, because I knew he would throw it again.
“This time he left it a little over the plate, and I was able to hook it down the left-field line.”
What made the game-winning rally so effective was that it came immediately after Louisville had scored twice in the top of the seventh.
“That’s the difference between a good team and a bad team,” Douglas said. “When the other team scores, if you can get a run on the board it really can affect the other team.”
Toledo won its fifth game in a row, tying the team’s longest winning streak of the season. While the Hens may be just two games over .500, they also are just four games behind Indianapolis in the International League’s West Division and only 3½ behind Rochester in the wild-card race.
“We are only two games over, but when you consider where we came from, that’s really good,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said, noting that his team was nine games under .500 in early May. “This team has battled and fought and put itself back in contention.”
Toledo jumped in front with a run in the first as Ezequiel Carrera doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Hernan Perez, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Collins.
Ben Guez made it 2-0 when he slammed a home run, his 10th this season, to lead off the third.
Hens starter Robbie Ray made that lead stand up through six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out four.
While Louisville had baserunners in four of the six innings he worked, Ray pitched out of trouble thanks in part to a slider he unveiled Sunday to replace the curve he has been working on in recent starts.
“I talked it over with [Detroit roving pitching instructor] A.J. Sager and [Toledo pitching coach] Al Nipper, and we thought a slider or cutter would be more conducive to my arm slot,” Ray said. “I thought I threw a few of them well.
“I had trouble controlling how much they broke. I had a few that broke a lot and a few that didn’t break that much. But I was happy with it for the first time out.”
While Ray’s new slider may not have been a “plus” pitch, it allowed him to keep the Bats off the board as Louisville was 0-for-6 when batting with a runner in scoring position against the lefty.
“It may not have been a effective pitch, but it wasn’t a detrimental pitch,” Parrish said. “His change-up was good in the middle of the game, and his fastball delivery stayed together and was better.”
Chad Smith struggled, giving up an RBI double and a two-out infield single by Jason Bourgeois that tied the game. Daniel Schlereth pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam in the seventh and also pitched a scoreless eighth.
“Schlereth did a great job for us,” Parrish said. “He got us out of a jam and had an easy eighth, which is important since we have a bullpen game [today] in Norfolk.”
Justin Miller got the final three outs for his fifth save to set up an important eight-game road trip featuring four games in Norfolk and four in Durham.
“We’ve got a tester on this road trip,” Parrish said. “But we’re pitching well and getting timely hitting, so we hope this continues.”
NOTES: The Tigers will send LHP Pat McCoy to the Mud Hens on a rehab assignment starting today. … RHP Jose Ortega will come out of the bullpen to start against the Tides tonight. … In the five-game series against Louisville, Douglas was 9-for-17 (.529) with three doubles, a triple and two homers among his nine hits as well as seven RBIs. ... Sunday’s crowd of 9,254 was the Mud Hens’ 19th sellout this season.