LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The International League West Division Title will be decided on the final day of the regular season and, the Louisville Bats will need a little help in raising their third straight division banner. Indianapolis first baseman Mitch Jones drove in a pair of runs including a solo home run as the visiting Indians played spoiler in the postseason picture, besting the Bats, 5-3, in front of a sellout crowd of 13,131 at Louisville Slugger Field.
Louisville, having already clinched a playoff spot, will go to the final day of the regular season trailing Columbus by a half game in the West division standings and needing to win Sunday to claim the division title. In addition to a Bats win, Louisville will need Toledo to defeat Columbus at home to overcome the half game deficit.
The door was wide open for the Bats to have control of their own destiny on Sunday night after Columbus had tripped up against Toledo. But the Indians had other plans.
On the first pitch of the game Indian left fielder Nick Melillo tripled off the wall in right-center field off Bats starter Jeremy Horst. Melillo scored a batter later off Pedro Ciriaco's RBI single up the middle. Ciriaco touched home on a two-out single from Erik Kratz to give the Tribe a 2-0 lead after the first.
Those were the only two runs Horst allowed in the game, though he flirted with disaster by letting the lead-off man reach in each of the first four innings and giving up seven hits. He walked a pair and struck out three.
The Bats played catch-up the rest of the way and fought back to tie the game on two different occasions.
Mike Costanzo and Dave Sappelt drove home a pair of runs in the fifth to even the score at two apiece. After the first two batters reached, Costanzo pinch-hit and singled to left to bring Eric Eymann, who singled to open the frame, to the dish. Sappelt then reached on a fielder's choice, allowing Kris Negron to add the tying run.
With Horst exiting after four innings, the Bats bullpen took over starting with a perfect fifth inning from Phillippe Valiquette. The other relievers were not quite as effective.
Jerry Gil was called on for the sixth and was greeted by Jones who changed the scoreboard on the first pitch with a 404-foot solo blast to the bleachers in left.
The see-saw scoring continued in Louisville's half of the sixth as Luis Terrero's run-scoring single evened the game at three as Todd Frazier scored.
The momentum of tying the game could never propel the Bats into taking the lead, however, as Indianapolis took control in the seventh.
Indian right fielder Brandon Moss, the league-leader in RBI, scorched a double up the right field line that kicked up chalk before rolling to the corner. Moss' 96th run batted in of the season brought Alex Presley across the plate with the go-ahead run. Jones added another run off Bats reliever Daniel Ray Herrera four pitches later with a sacrifice fly, scoring Moss.
Herrera (2-2, 4.30) was charged with the loss in his two innings. He allowed the two runs in the seventh off of two hits and struck out three.
Louisville went quietly in their final three plate appearances as three Indians relievers combined to close out the game.
Brian Bass (4-4, 3.26) worked two perfect innings with three strikeouts to record the win. He helped clean up the mess left by starter Chris Jakubauskas in the sixth by getting an inning-ending double play. Jakubauskas went five innings, giving up three runs on seven hits, but escaped a decision.
Indianapolis closer Jean Machi allowed a leadoff single in the ninth to Bats third baseman Eric Eymann trying to start a rally attempt. But on the next pitch, Machi educed pinch-hitter Sean Henry to ground into a 1-6-3 double play for Machi's 23rd save of the season. Justin Thomas tossed a clean eighth for the Indians.
Prior to the game, Zack Cozart was presented with the Mary E. Barney Most Valuable Player Award, given annually to Louisville's top performer. Appearing in his 135th game this season, the Bats shortstop set career highs in RBI (67), home runs (17), runs scored (90), and stolen bases (30) in 2010. He was 1-for-4 with a single on Sunday night.
Game 143 of the 2010 season will match LHP Ben Jukich (6-4, 3.89) on the hill for the Bats against Indianapolis scheduled starter RHP Brad Lincoln (7-3, 3.71). The final regular season matchup will start at 1:05 p.m. from Louisville Slugger Field. The Labor Day matinee has plenty in store for the whole family during the Bats Fan Appreciation Extravaganza. Meijer will present Baseball Bingo during the game and concession stands will have $1 hot dogs and $1 Pepsi, plus kids can run the bases following the contest. Not to mention that the IL West Division Championship will be decided tomorrow afternoon.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.