COLUMBUS – The Toledo Mud Hens (33-50) may be struggling this season, but not against the Columbus Clippers (41-42). Of the seven games the two teams played before Saturday night, Toledo won five.
This pattern did not change on Saturday. It was mostly a night of dominant pitching, but a late Mud Hens explosion ultimately secured an 8-1 win over Columbus. It was fireworks night at Huntington Park, but that certainly wasn’t the case for the Clippers and their offense, which could only muster two hits.
Toledo struck first in the second inning, and it came courtesy of a leadoff home run by designated hitter John Lindsey. It was a low line drive, but it was just high and long enough to clear the left field fence and make it 1-0 Mud Hens. This was Lindsey’s first home run in a Toledo uniform.
For a while, that home run ball was the only serious flaw of the night for Clippers starter Corey Kluber (7-7, 3.84 ERA). After allowing at least a hit in his first three innings, Kluber pitched four consecutive perfect innings that kept his offense just one run back.
Even if the deficit remained at one, it would have been more than sufficient for Mud Hens starter Casey Crosby (5-2, 3.53 ERA), who did not allow a single Columbus run in seven dominant innings. He didn’t even give up a hit until the sixth inning, which was a single to left field by catcher Matt Pagnozzi that just glanced off the glove of Mud Hens shortstop Argenis Diaz.
However, even that positive momentum for the Clippers was short-lived. The next batter was shortstop Ryan Rohlinger, who was playing his first game with Columbus. He hit a hard grounder to third, but a nice defensive play by Toledo’s Audy Ciriaco was able to turn a near-hit into a double play.
Sarbaugh saw this as the key sequence of the game, and the Mud Hens’ tight defense was able to put Toledo in a position to blow it open.
“In tight games like that it takes those types of plays to keep the game where it is,” Sarbaugh said. “They were able to make them.”
The double play was not uncommon for Columbus on Saturday, as they hit into four of them over the course of the game. This only fed into their inability to develop offensive momentum, and thus they were handed the loss.
Toledo was finally able to tire out Kluber in the eighth with three consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly that made the score 3-0. With the pitching as dominant as it was, the Mud Hens getting a late three-run lead would seem to be enough of a death blow. Toledo’s Lindsey would then make the lead truly secure with a bases-loaded double off the wall that brought in three more runs and made it 6-0. In the ninth, a two-run bloop single by Toledo right fielder Ben Guez made it 8-0 for good measure. What was once a tight ball game became a blowout with just a few swings of the bat.
“We were having trouble getting runs,” Sarbaugh said. “Keeping it 1-0 was big and then they scored two, made it 3-0, and they added onto it. The score was right. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively.
This late rally made Kluber’s stat line worse than his overall start deserved. He pitched 7.2 innings, giving up eight hits and ultimately six earned runs. He struck out five throughout the night.
Designated hitter Travis Hafner struggled in the second game of his rehab stint with Columbus, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, a groundout and a fly out. However, he did drive in the Clippers’ lone run the ninth with a long sacrifice fly to center field. Hafner is currently looking to return to the Cleveland Indians after being placed on the disabled list on May 30.
The Clippers will wrap up their home stand on Sunday evening with a 6:05 p.m. game against the Mud Hens before heading up to Toledo and playing a four-game set on the road.