Toledo’s Ezequiel Carrera steals second base ahead of the tag by Durham shortstop Hak-Ju Lee in the first inning of the MudHens’ 1-0 victory at Fifth Third Field on Thursday. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
While all wins count the same in the standings, there’s something special about a 1-0 victory like the Mud Hens claimed over Durham on Thursday.
“For us to hold a good team like Durham down, that means we pitched well and played good defense,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said. “Good teams pitch well and play good defense.”
Hens starter Duane Below and three relievers combined to shut out the Bulls on five hits, while the Toledo defense produced several outstanding plays.
Mike Hessman provided all the offense the Hens needed when, with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth, he doubled to score Hernan Perez.
“They were staying away from me all night,” Hessman said. “[Their pitcher] started me away, but the 0-2 was a cutter that came back over the plate and I was able to keep it fair.”
Hessman’s hit was especially important since Toledo had gone hitless in seven previous at-bats with runners in scoring position. Worse, the Hens had a runner picked off second base in the eighth.
But one run was enough because Below and the bullpen shut out the Bulls. Below struggled early, allowing three hits and two walks to the first 12 batters before retiring his last 11 in a row.
“I was fighting myself at the start of the game,” he said. “I was finally able to get into a rhythm I liked, and I was able to keep the ball down [better].”
Pat McCoy relieved in the sixth and benefited from strong defense. Vince Belnome opened the inning with a hard hit off the left-field fence, but the Hens were able to throw him out at second.
Perez made a fine leaping grab to spear a line drive at shortstop. Had those two plays gone against the Hens, the Bulls likely would have scored a run.
“Those are the kind of plays that win you ballgames,” Parrish said. “We kept them off the board right there [because of those plays].”
McCoy got four outs, Chad Smith retired the two hitters he faced to get the victory, and Kevin Whelan recorded three strikeouts to earn his seventh save.
NOTE: Belnome was ejected for arguing the call at second base in the sixth. … Toledo’s Eugenio Suarez was a late scratch from the starting lineup because of back stiffness. Parrish said he believes the injury is not serious.