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Hens' Hessman tees off on Wings
09/12/2006 11:29 PM ET
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The spirit of Dave Kingman is alive and well, clearly having taken on the form of a Mud Hen.

The Mud Hens' slug 'em-or-leave 'em approach continued Tuesday night at rain-soaked Frontier Field as they rode a pair of Mike Hessman home runs to rally past Rochester, 6-3, before 3,374 fans in the opening game of the International League Finals.

It was Toledo's fourth consecutive postseason win and a living, breathing example of the flawed approach the Mud Hens have taken for much of the season, particularly during the last week. Once more, the Mud Hens were held down by solid starting pitching, this time from Rochester's Mike Smith, who was almost unhittable for seven innings.

Once again, though, the Mud Hens staggered off the ropes when they got into the Red Wings' bullpen. They broke out the haymakers with Hessman's eighth-inning shot serving as the knockout punch. The third baseman's homers were Toledo's 11th and 12th in six postseason games and the 12 strikeouts marked the sixth consecutive game in which the Hens whiffed at least 10 times.

"That's a typical Mud Hens game tonight," said Toledo manager Larry Parrish, whose team led the International League in home runs (152) and strikeouts (1,194) during the regular season. "We get 12 strikeouts and hit a few home runs. Hopefully it will keep going for a few more wins. We just keep battling and don't let the strikeouts get us down. We just keep hacking.

"We've won a lot of games this year that didn't look like we were going to win and tonight was one of them. I've never seen a club like this before."

Overall, the Hens have struck out 75 times in the postseason but as long as his team keeps winning, Parrish doesn't mind. Well, not too much. He'd certainly like to avoid scenarios like the one that played out over the first seven innings.

The veteran right-hander left with a 3-1 lead, having fanned 10 and scattered four hits. The only blemish was Hessman's solo homer in the seventh that put Toledo on the board.

But Rochester's bullpen, which was so effective against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the semifinals, was unable to finish what Smith started. Beau Kemp lasted only a third of an inning, allowing a run on two doubles, a walk and a hit batter before giving way to Bobby Korecky, whose 0-2 sinker to Hessman rang off the chocolate milk sign atop the left-field foul pole.

"We weren't getting blown out," Hessman said. "We knew we were in striking range and once we got into their bullpen we got some things going. It was a breaking ball and luckily it stayed fair.

"I've never seen anything like this. We joke around a lot about getting punched out 10 times and then we just hit a homer. The team doesn't let it bother us. The guys in our lineup have a lot of power, and guys like that will strike out a lot. We go down swinging every night."

Hessman's shot contributed to what had been a rare off night for the Red Wings bullpen. The Rochester relievers allowed only four earned runs in 20 innings during the semifinals for a 1.80 ERA. But when Ryan Ludwick snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a double off Kemp, it offered an ugly bit of foreshadowing.

"The hardest part to swallow is that when Beau and I come in it's supposed to be game over," Korecky said. "I just didn't do what I was supposed to do. It was an 0-2 sinker that was supposed to be down, but I left it over the plate."

Having been handed the lead, the Toledo bullpen made sure it closed out the contest. The Mud Hens 'pen has been untouchable in the playoffs. Lance Davis (1-0), Bobby Seay and Lee Gardner (who earned the save) combined to pitch three scoreless frames in relief of starter Colby Lewis, extending the bullpen's scoreless-inning streak to 24.

Now the Mud Hens have one more game at Frontier Field (Game 2 at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday) which has proven to be just as comfortable for them as Fifth Third Field in Toledo. Parrish's squad improved to 14-3 in its last 17 games in Rochester.

"You know, we were hoping these guys would beat Scranton," Parrish said. "We just play better here than we do in Scranton. We haven't played so well on turf this year, so it's not so much the team [we're facing] as it is the turf."

Regardless of the playing surface, the spirit of big-swinging Kingman has guided the Mud Hens this far. Parrish is hoping that mojo will last for a few more days.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.