COLUMBUS —The Toledo Mud Hens had a listless performance in a 15-2 drubbing Aug. 16 against Rochester at Fifth Third Field.
They were in the midst of a three-game losing skid and were 3-7 in their past 10 games as they dropped to .500 (61-61) for the first time since two games into the season.
Chasing Indianapolis and Columbus in the International League West Division race, a playoff spot seemed unlikely. A once-promising season, which peaked with a 37-20 record in early June, seemed headed for a late-season collapse.
But a funny thing happened. The Mud Hens responded by winning four of their next five, kicking off a run of 12 wins in a 16-game span.
That late-season surge culminated with a 10-5 win Sunday at Columbus that clinched Toledo’s first IL West title and playoff bid since 2007.
That set off a celebration complete with plenty of champagne sprayed throughout the visitors clubhouse at Huntington Park. It was a nice feeling for Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz to report to work Monday for the season finale.
“You don’t expect too much on the day after you clinch,” Mientkiewicz said. “They’ve been going at it so hard, that you just let them go play and have some fun with that. You just pray no one gets hurt. It is kind of a nice feeling to just relax in the dugout for once after the last couple weeks.”
The Mud Hens gave regular starters Chad Huffman, Christin Stewart, and Pete Kozma the day off in an 8-1 loss to finish the regular season at 73-66.
The Clippers hit five home runs to account for their scoring.
Former American League MVP Josh Donaldson, on a rehab assignment from the Cleveland Indians after being acquired in a trade Friday, had the big blow as he hit a grand slam to center field in the fourth inning.
Yu Chang hit two solo homers, Rob Brantly added a solo shot, and Bobby Bradley’s third-inning solo home run accounted for the Clippers’ other runs.
Dixon Machado singled home Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the eighth for the Mud Hens’ only run.
Toledo was glad to have the pressure off by wrapping up the division title with Sunday’s win and help later in the day from Louisville, which beat Indianapolis to make the playoff bid official.
After Sunday’s game, the Mud Hens gathered around the TV to cheer on Louisville.
“That was a lot of fun actually because we just sat in the locker room and for about five innings, we were the biggest Louisville fans out there,” Huffman said. “Once that last out was made, we had a great time. It’s just something great. It’s one of those things that you work so hard for and once you finally accomplish it, it’s fun to celebrate with your teammates and pop the champagne bottles and just have fun with it.”
For Mientkiewicz, who has experienced playoff-clinching victories at the major-league level and the celebrations that follow, he said the Mud Hens’ celebration was no less special.
“Nothing changes, just the clubhouse is probably a little nicer,” Mientkiewicz said. “You still have to grind through the whole summer and you are still playing for something. Most of the league is going home except for four. So no matter what you are playing, it means something.”
The first two games of the best-of-5 first round of the IL playoffs are at home against Durham at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Games 3, 4, and 5 are scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Durham. Games 4 and 5 are if necessary.
“I’ve been with the Tigers for eight years and have never been on a winning team,” Mud Hens first baseman Jason Krizan said. “I’m really excited to play in the postseason. I got a taste of it in the Dominican, so it’s extremely exciting. We played some really good baseball down the stretch and it really worked out for us.”
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