With the drastic roster change and no hope for a post season birth, Toledo continued to press on, and the team was determined to finish the season on a high note.
"It is all about being a competitor," second baseman Scott Sizemore said. "It's about being able to get up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror knowing you did your best the night before. You just have to keep your head in the game, no matter the situation."
Many core players also wanted to achieve another mark that was important to the Hens organization. In the history of the franchise, the Mud Hens had not put five consecutive winning seasons together since 1896-1901. This team had the opportunity to do just that and carve out their own niche in the Toledo record books. The team was able to succeed finishing the last week of the season with a record of 73-70.
"Most guys in professional sports are competitors and our guys are the same way," Hens manager Larry Parrish said. "Individual goals take more of a precedent over team goals, but there are several guys who have marks to play for."
Several players did have personal benchmarks on the line as well. Don Kelly was in the midst of a batting race throughout last week. Jeff Frazier had raised his batting average 40 points and was batting above .300 for the season. Sizemore was looking to stay focused as he heads to Arizona to play in the fall league too.
"When you look at guys like Frazier, Kelly, and Sizemore, they all want to get those marks," Parrish said. "They worked all year to get where they are at statistically, and they want to get those marks. It is important to them. With some guys it's all about pride."
Frazier echoed his manager's sentiments.
"The old saying is it's not how you start it is how you finish," Frazier said. "We were twelve games under .500 at one point and now we have a winning record. To screw that up would be a shame."
New Faces, New Places
The Hens had an influx of players called to fill vacant roster spots this past week. When six players made the trip up I-75, the Hens had some holes to fill. The Hens had five players called up from different levels to fill those vacancies. Catcher Keith Hernandez, infielders Audy Ciriaco and Mike Gosse, and pitchers Ryan Ketchner and Lester Oliveros all found themselves donning the Hens uniform for the final week of the Triple-A season.
"This is a big deal for those guys," Parrish said. "They are playing to kind of showcase a little of their skills at a higher level. This can dictate what level they start out at next year depending on how they handle themselves here."
Some of the new Hens played very well over the final week. Gosse caught fire after his first Triple-A appearance last Friday. The second baseman's road trip was a successful one, going 5-11 with a home run and three RBI in the final series in Columbus over the weekend. Hernandez was the offensive star for the Hens in the home finale. The 25 year old backstop went 3-5 with two doubles and driving in two RBI.
The player who made the biggest splash during his short time with Toledo was starting pitcher Ryan Ketchner. Ketchner made two starts over the final week of the season, and the left hander posted a 2-0 record with a 0.56 ERA. The outings were good enough to earn Ketchner the International League Pitcher of the Week Award.
"Ryan is a tough kid," Parrish said. "With all the personal things he has had to battle through, it was nice to seem him pitch well here."
Ketchner has had to overcome more than just baseball obstacles, because the southpaw is deaf. He is trying to become the first deaf player in the major leagues since outfielder Curtis Pride, who also played for Toledo in 1996.
Hessman Plays Nine
It has been a bittersweet season for third baseman Mike Hessman. The 31 year old has struggled at times at the plate this season, despite reaching several offensive milestones this year. But Friday's home finale provided one more milestone for Hessman this season.
In 2005, former Hen Kevin Hooper pulled off a unique feat. Hooper played all nine positions during a nine inning game. Hens' skipper Larry Parrish approached Hessman about "pulling a Hooper" during the team's final home game.
"LP asked me if I want to play all nine positions in the game," Hessman said. "I told him I was up for it."
Hessman started at catcher and moved around the diamond, saving pitcher for the 9th inning. The California native took the mound with the Hens holding a 11- 10 lead. Hessman had never played the catcher position or centerfield. Unfortunately Hessman gave up two runs in the inning, and he ultimately took the loss for Toledo.
"This was all about fun," Parrish said. "Hess has been a guy that has been a leader for us. With this last game we wanted to make it fun for our guys and the fans."
Hessman, who has been branded by as "The King" amongst Mud Hens players and staff for his play over his five seasons with Toledo, was disappointed after the game. The crowd gave Hessman a standing ovation as he left the field, despite the novice closer giving up the lead.
"It's frustrating not to pick up the win, but the fans were great tonight. The support they showed was touching," Hessman said.
The quest to play nine capped off another historic week for the King. Hessman belted his 200th Triple-A home run the night before.
"These fans have been great to us this season, and I wish I could have sent them home on a happy note tonight," Hessman said. "But it was a fun experience."
Hens News and Notes
- Larry Parrish passed former Hens manager Charles Strobel for second on Toledo's career wins list by a manager. Parrish finished the season with 499 career wins with the Mud Hens. He trails only Cal Ermer for first place. Ermer won 540 games while managing the Hens.
- As has been the case all season, Toledo never gave Brooks Brown any kind of run support. Brown only received more than two runs of support in a start twice this season, and in six of his 18 starts the Hens were shutout. Brown's record for the year with Toledo was 3-13, despite 64% of his starts being considered "quality starts."
- Ruddy Lugo finished the season with 13 wins, which tied him for the IL lead in victories for the season. The 13 wins was also a career best for Lugo, who had not won more than 11 games in a season prior to 2009.
- The Mud Hens finished the season with a team total of 135 HR. The team ranked second in the IL behind Durham, who hit 137 HR.