It was the best of times and the worst of times for the Rochester Red Wings in game one of the Governor’s Cup Finals Unfortunately, the worst of times came last as the Wings suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the home run crazy Toledo Mud Hens 6-3.
It rained throughout the game. If only it would have come down harder after 5 innings! Mike Smith took the mound for the Wings in game one and he was facing righty Colby Lewis for the Mud Hens. Wings got off to a good start in the 2nd inning on a leadoff walk to Jones followed by a double from Tiffee and a run scoring single by Kevin West. 1-0 Wings. They scored again in the 3rd on singles by Morales, Watkins and Jones.
In the top of the 5th Mike Hessman (he of that oh so strange batting line– .165 BA, but with 24 HR’s and 49 RBI over 345 AB’s. Of his 57 hits, only 22 were singles–more on him later) reached base when Terry Tiffee simply dropped his infield pop up. Hessman was at second with two outs when Ryan Rayburn rifled a single to center. Andres Torres handled it cleanly and fired a low one hopper to rookie catcher Jose Morales, who held on to the ball as Hessman barreled into him for the 3rd out. Both Morales and Torres got standing ovations from the appreciative, and by now soaked crowd.
In the bottom of the 5th, the Wings made it 3-0 when Torres walked, stole second and strode home on Quinton McCracken’s two out single. Life was good. Mike Smith was mowing the Hens down like bowling pins. Going into the 7th he had allowed only 3 hits and no runs. It was a masterpiece in the making. In the top of the 7th however, he left one pitch over the heart of the plate and that anomaly of a hitter, Mike Hessman hammered a long home run high and deep over the left field fence to make the score 3-1. Smith then retired the next two hitters easily and the Wings led 3-1 going to the top of the eighth.
The music now switches from major to minor. Stan Cliburn, so used to making excellent decisions had to make a tough one here. Smith had thrown 112 pitches, 76 for strikes. He had allowed only 4 hits, 1 run and struck out 10. In short he was throwing one whale of a game. Should Smith go back out for the 8th inning? All 3,300 fans in attendance certainly hoped so. Cliburn however decided to go with his bullpen, a move that ultimately may cost him and his team the Governor’s Cup. Beau Kemp came in and after getting 2 quick strikes on the leadoff hitter Ryan Rayburn, he hit him with a pitch. This was the first time Toledo had gotten their leadoff man on base in the game. Ryan Ludwick followed on the very next pitch with a screaming double into the left field corner putting men on 2nd and 3rd. With the very dangerous Josh Phelps batting, Kemp uncorked a wild pitch scoring Rayburn. After retiring Phelps, Jack Hannahan laced another double into the right field corner tying the game at 3-3.
Mike Rabelo then drew a walk and Kemp was done for the night. Enter rookie Bobby Korecky. Korecky got Dustan Mohr to fly to shallow center for the 2nd out. Then up to the plate strode Mike Hessman. Korecky got 2 strikes on Hessman, but on the next pitch, Hessman launched a rocket straight down the left field line, high up on the foul pole, and grazing it as it made its way deep into the night for a game breaking 3 run home run.
Suddenly in the course of 10 minutes, a beautiful evening of baseball, capped by Mike Smiths 7 innings of brilliant pitching, all went down the drain, thanks to two horrendous efforts by Beau Kemp and Bobby Korecky. The ugly line for the 8th inning: 5 runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, 1 hit batter, nobody left on base. The 3-1 lead had turned into a 6-3 loss.
Kemp was simply brutal this day. He pitched like he had no clue. The Mud Hens ecstatic to see Mike Smith depart were ready to jump all over Kemp, and indeed jump they did. Bobby Korecky only gave up the one hit, but it was the big ONE! After getting ahead 0-2 on the dangerous Hessman, who had just homered in his last AB, Korecky could not put him away and threw a strike right in his wheelhouse. Hessman’s blast silenced the crowd and completely sucked the life out of the stunned Red Wings.
How a game that was going so darned good could turn so bad in such a short time is the essence of what this game of baseball is all about. Toledo’s batting order, which resembles Murderers Row compared to the punch-and-judy lineup the Red Wings sport was being held in check by the crafty Mike Smith and the Wings had every reason to believe that they would come off victorious on this night. But the Mud Hens, who out-homered the Wings in the regular season 152 to 84, once again used the long ball to put a major crimp in the Red Wings plans of a Governor’s Cup Parade down mainstreet.
Cliburn pushed the buttons last night, and nothing worked. In great hindsight, it would have been much better had Smith come out to pitch the 8th. I mean, what is he saving himself for at this point? The season for the Wings will end no later than Saturday one way or the other. Smith won’t be doing much more pitching this year!
Doesn’t Get Any Easier Dept: Tomorrow’s game, which is now a must-win for the Wings will feature rookie Kevin Slowey, making his first AAA start against veteran Chad Durbin of the Hens who was 11-8 with an ERA of 3.11 and a IL league leading 149 strikeouts.
Dodging the Drops: The first game was played in a steady drizzle. There is a chance that game two may not be played Wednesday due to the awful weather. If not, then the entire schedule will be moved up a day. Any games played in Toledo will be televised back to Rochester. Glen Perkins is penciled in to start game 3 for the Wings.
.165 My foot! Mike Hessman finished the night 3-4 with 2 HR’s and 4 RBI. Clearly the game’s big hero. But if his mammoth drive in the 8th was only a few inches more to the left, who knows that the game might still be tied!
Glen Williams–Come out, come out wherever you are. Continuing a miserable post season, Williams went 0-4 and still has only 1 hit in 5 post season games.
Utilityman Donaldo Mendez was sent home to San Diego to attend to personal matters. Slowey replaced him on the roster; however the Wings are short one position player now.
Wings finished 3-5 against Toledo during the regular season, with 2 of the 3 wins coming in extra innings. The Mud Hens have the home run bats tuned up and ready to go and they will be tough to contain the rest of the way.
Wings did try and stage a rally in the 9th. They got 2 men on with 1 out, but failed to score, as Torres flew out to medium center field and Watkins looked weak, striking out to end the game.
So game one was a bitter pill to swallow. Yet it started out to be so hopeful, until the fateful 8th inning. All one can do now is suck it up and say ‘go get ‘em Wings tomorrow night. These Wings have bounced back before. There is no reason to think they can’t do it again.