Louisville, KY - The Louisville Bats fell to the Columbus Clippers 5-3 tonight, but in doing so, clinched the International League West division title. Coming into the game, the Bats held a nine-and-a-half game lead over division foe, Toledo Mud Hens. The magic number was one, thus any combination of a Bats win or Mud Hens loss would give the Bats the title. The Bats got a little help from the Indianapolis Indians as they defeated the Mud Hens, 12-0, clinching the division for the Bats. Tonight's game was played at Louisville Slugger Field in front of an energetic crowd of 12,769 fans.
"We play 142 games, winning it on the field or not doesn't matter," said Bats manager, Rick Sweet. "We put ourselves in position for this all year long."
The Bats earned their second consecutive IL West Division title and fourth overall since 2000 (2001, 2003, 2008, 2009).
"We battled all year, and it's great to clinch it anyway you can," said Bats shortstop, Chris Valaika. "It's awesome to be in the playoffs."
The Clippers got on the board right away as the first three batters of the game reached base consecutively to load the bases. Wes Hodges then grounded into a four-six-three double play, scoring lead off hitter, Michael Brantley. Tony Graffanino then singled in Josh Barfield, giving the Clips the early lead of 2-0.
The Clippers added to their lead in the top of the third inning. Josh Barfield and Jordan Brown hit back-to-back one-out singles, followed by a two-run single by Hodges, making it a 4-0 game in favor of the Clippers.
The Bats would not go away as they wanted to clinch the division on their own. In the bottom of the fifth, Chris Valiaka and Lew Ford singled and walked respectively, and subsequently advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. With two runners in scoring position and one out, Eric Eymann lifted a fly ball to left field, scoring Valaika, and putting the Bats on the board, trailing 4-1.
In the bottom of the sixth, Chris Heisey led of the inning by getting hit by a pitch, and advanced to second on a fly out to center by Todd Frazier. Juan Francisco singled, putting runners on the corners with one out. Valaika stepped up with two outs and doubled in Heisey, edging closer at 4-2.
After missing 23 games due to injury, Bats relief pitcher Jeff Kennard entered the game in the top of the seventh in relief of starter, Travis Wood. The first batter Kennard would face was Michael Brantley, who launched his sixth home run of the year, opening up the lead to 5-2.
The Bats threatened in the bottom of the ninth. Wes Bankston and Chris Valaika drew back-to-back walks off Greg Aquino to begin the inning. Lew Ford then flew out to deep right field, as Clippers Mickey Hall made a great jumping catch to save extra bases. Bankston advanced to third on the fly out. Chris Denove hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Bankston, making it a 5-3 game. Danny Dorn then hit a pinch-hit single, putting runners on the corners with two out. Luis Bolivar then struck out swinging to end the game.
Wood (4-2, 3.30) was pinned with the loss. He was shaky at first, then settled down, going six innings, giving up nine hits, four runs, one walk, while striking out three.
Chuck Lofgren started and picked up the win for the Clippers. Lofgren (6-9, 5.36) tossed five-and-two-thirds innings, surrenduring five hits, two runs, two walks, while striking out three batters. Despite a shaky ninth inning, Aquino picked up his 15th save of the season.
The Bats and Clippers will lock up again tomorrow in game four of the seven game home and home series (four in Louisville, three in Columbus). LHP Ben Jukich (8-6, 4.32) will toe the rubber for the Bats and the Clippers will counter with LHP Ryan Edell (0-5, 5.89). First pitch is set for 6:15 p.m.