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Huffman homer lifts Mud Hens over Clippers

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    Chad Huffman of the Toledo Mud Hens reacts after belting a 2-run homer in the eighth inning of Sunday's game against the Columbus Clippers. The Mud Hens won, 3-2, to move within 1/2 game of the Wild Card playoff spot.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    JaCoby Jones of the Toledo Mud Hens celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Chad Huffman, shown in a game earlier this season, homered Sunday for the Toledo Mud Hens, who beat the Columbus Clippers to stay in the playoff hunt.

    Blade/Kurt Steiss

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    Toledo Mud Hens Harold Castro throws the ball to first base during Sunday's game against the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Jacob Robson of the Toledo Mud Hens slides back to first base in the sixth inning of Sunday's game against the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Toledo Mud Hens pitcher Daniel Norris delivers during his rehab start Sunday against Columbus at Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Toledo Mud Hens pitcher Paul Voelker delivers against the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Toledo Mud Hen Dixon Machado signs autographs before the game.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Fifth Third Field in downtown Toledo during Sunday's game between the Toledo Mud Hens and the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Chad Huffman rounds the bases after his home run in the eighth inning gave the Toledo Mud Hens a 3-2 lead over the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    hThomas Dunn, 8, of Ontario and his father Jason meet Toledo Mud Hens outfielder Jacob Robson after Sunday's game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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    Toledo Mud Hens pitcher Caleb Thielbar reacts to the ball being hit back at him during Sunday's game against the Columbus Clippers.

    Blade/Samantha Madar

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Thick in the middle of a playoff push, Toledo Mud Hens designated hitter Chad Huffman blasted a two-out, two-run home run in the eighth inning of Toledo’s 3-2 win over Columbus on Sunday at Fifth Third Field.

Huffman, visibly hobbled by a foot injury, said he is not going to let a little pain keep him out of what should be an intriguing stretch run as the Mud Hens chase an International League West division title or a Wild Card spot.

“My foot’s a little banged up,” Huffman said. “There’s only two things – you can either not play or play. I’m definitely not going to not play. It’s been a blast being with these guys, so foot or no foot, you have to go out and compete. Our mind set is to come out and have some fun and win games. We have to come together and play for each other and win.”

VIDEO: Mud Hens 3, Clippers 2

With its third straight win over Columbus, Toledo is now just ½ game behind the Clippers in the International League West division as well as the race for the Wild Card. Indianapolis topped Louisville 5-3 on Sunday, so the Mud Hens remain 1 ½ games behind the Indians for the division lead. With Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk also losing, Toledo passes both teams in the Wild Card standings, leading both by ½ game.

Huffman’s heroics were on display for the 8,352 fans at Fifth Third Field, but Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz was forced to watch from the clubhouse as he was ejected earlier in the game after a disputed batter’s interference call on JaCoby Jones.

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Chad Huffman of the Toledo Mud Hens reacts after belting a 2-run homer in the eighth inning of Sunday's game against the Columbus Clippers. The Mud Hens won, 3-2, to move within 1/2 game of the Wild Card playoff spot.

Blade/Samantha Madar Enlarge

Jones was deemed to have crossed home plate and interfered with Columbus catcher Eric Haase’s throw to second base to try to get the stealing Jacob Robson. As a result, Jones was called out and Robson had to return to first base.

Nonetheless, Mientkiewicz was pleased to see his team pull off a come-from-behind win thanks to the clutch hitting of the veteran Huffman.

“It’s one of those things where we can’t look up,” Mientkiewicz said. “We have to keep playing and worry about today and not tomorrow or the day before. We had the right guy up at the right time. Huffy is on one leg bless his heart. He wants to win more than anyone I’ve seen and he came through again which was huge.”

It was a bit of a unique situation for the Mud Hens on Sunday because in the mix for a playoff spot, they relied heavily on three Detroit Tigers players who were on rehab assignments.

Most notably left-hander Daniel Norris started the game for the Mud Hens and fired four innings of one-run ball. He allowed three hits, walked one and struck out four. His outing consisted of 72 pitches with 49 for strikes.

“It felt pretty good to get out there in front of a nice crowd,” Norris said. “I feel good and I’ve been working really hard and it’s been a long rehab process. I’m just happy to be out there throwing a baseball and facing some hitters. Everything feels pretty crisp. It’s about not having any reservations throwing the baseball.”

With his four innings, Norris kept the Mud Hens in decent shape, trailing just 1-0 when he left the game.

“He the first rehabber that we’ve had that hasn’t given up a touchdown,” Mientkiewicz joked. “For him to go out and do what he did was huge for us.”

Blaine Hardy, also on a rehab assignment, pitched one inning of relief, giving up one run on three hits with no walks and a strikeout. Jones was the other Tiger on rehab and he finished 1-for-4 on Sunday.

Toledo will close out the series with Columbus on Monday with a chance for a sweep and with a win would overtake the Clippers in the standings. Mientkiewicz said the team is just enjoying being in the mix for a playoff spot at this point in the season.

“It makes coming to work a little more exciting,” Mientkiewicz said. “Down the stretch and in playoff games is the closest you are going to get to big leagues without being there. Hopefully we can stay in this thing a little longer and get a chance to play in late September.”

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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