The Mud Hens’ Mike Hessman, center, is congratulated after his home run during the bottom of the second inning. It was his team-leading 24th home run of the season and his third in four games. BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
The Mud Hens’ faint playoff hopes likely were extinguished Saturday by a furious ninth-inning rally by Columbus.
The Clippers used a three-run double by Luke Carlin off Toledo closer Kevin Whelan to claim a come-from-behind 4-2 victory at Fifth Third Field.
“We needed some things to work out for us to win, and almost all of them did,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. “But the last piece was the one that didn’t work.”
A crowd of 11,000 watched as the Hens fell four games under the .500 mark at 62-66. Worse, the setback drops Toledo eight games behind the Clippers in the International League’s West Division.
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It also wasted a fine performance by Hens starter Mike Belfiore and relievers Pat McCoy and Justin Miller, as well as a couple of timely hits that had helped Toledo cobble together a 2-1 lead.
But in the top of the ninth, Whelan gave up a leadoff walk to the Clippers’ Elliot Johnson, a single to Matt Carson that pushed Johnson to third, and a wild pitch that was part of a walk to Chris Wallace that loaded the bases with none out.
Whelan struck out Dusty Brown, but Carlin whacked a 3-1 pitch into the left-center gap and to the wall to unload the bases.
“Whelan has been good for us all year,” said Parrish, noting that Whelan leads the IL with 20 saves. “But [in this game] he had no feel for his [split-finger fastball], which is his bread-and-butter pitch. And he didn’t have super command of his fastball.”
Before the ninth, the Mud Hens did all the right things.
They got on the board first when Mike Hessman hammered a home run over the left-field scoreboard, his third homer in four days and team-leading 24th of the season.
But Columbus tied the game just two batters into the fourth inning when Carlin slammed a home run, his fourth. He finished the game 3-for-4 thanks to a single in the fifth.
That was the only run allowed in six innings by Belfiore, who struck out two and walked one. The only time the Clippers challenged the Hens left-hander was in the fifth, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out.
But Belfiore, who was gunning for his fourth win in five starts, retired Justin Sellers and Giovanny Urshela to maintain the 1-1 tie.
Toledo retook the lead in the fifth thanks to a two-out rally that began with a double by Brandon Douglas down the right-field line. Andy Dirks, who had struck out twice in his first two at-bats of his rehab assignment with the Hens, singled up the middle to score Douglas.
Unfortunately, that was all the offense the Hens could produce as Toledo finished with just seven hits and had only one runner advance to third base besides the two runners who scored.
The Mud Hens could not advance Tyler Collins past second base after he doubled in the fourth, and Toledo left two runners on base in the fifth.
It seemed as if that would be enough as McCoy retired all three batters he faced in the seventh, and Miller pitched around a two-out walk in the eighth to set the stage for Whelan — and for Carlin’s late-game heroics.
“Belfiore did a good job, and so did McCoy and Miller,” Parrish said. “We had only scored two, but we still had a chance to win in the ninth.”
NOTES: After the game, the Detroit Tigers announced that Jim Johnson, who pitched four games for the Mud Hens, was being called up to Detroit. Pitcher Melvin Mercedes was optioned to Toledo. To make room for Johnson, the Tigers designated Whelan for assignment. … Saturday’s crowd was the Mud Hens’ 25th sellout of the season.