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Clippers win rainy home opener against rival Toledo

The Columbus Clippers’ bats were hot Saturday evening despite the chilly, wet conditions for the home opener at Huntington Park. The Clippers amassed 15 hits and celebrated their 2010 Triple-A National Championship in style by defeating rival Toledo Mud Hens, 10-4.

Columbus center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and first baseman Jordan Brown led the way for the Clippers with three RBIs each. Second baseman Jason Kipnis and left fielder Jerad Head each added three hits and scored two runs.

After a pregame ceremony that included unveiling the 2010 championship trophy and raising a championship banner in center field, Toledo stole the show early, scoring three runs in the first two innings.

Clippers starting pitcher Zach McAllister began the game erratically, walking the first two batters. Toledo designated hitter Timo Perez advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Left fielder Scott Thorman followed with a sacrifice fly and first baseman Ryan Strieby added an RBI single to give the Mud Hens an early 2-0 lead.

“(McAllister) came out a little amped up,” pitching coach Ruben Niebla said. “He was trying to overthrow.”

Toldeo starting pitcher Duane Below held Columbus scoreless for the first three innings, but the Clippers finally broke through for three runs in the fourth. Kipnis and Head each singled with one out. After Brown flied out to the warning track in center, catcher Paul Phillips hit a double, sending Kipnis in to score, and Carrera hit a two-run single to left field to tie the game, 3-3.

Columbus took the lead in the sixth inning when it plated two runs with two outs off Toledo reliever Ramon Garcia. Phillips singled to right and scored after Carrera drove a double into the gap in left center. Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the fourth inning, singled up the middle to score Carrera and cap off the rally.

Toledo responded in the top of the seventh with a run off of Columbus reliever Frank Herrmann to cut the deficit to 5-4. But the Clippers would pull away in the seventh with their second three-run inning of the game. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall led off with a walk and scored on a Head double three batters later. Brown delivered a single up the middle that brought home Kipnis and Head to stretch the Clipper lead to 8-4.

The Clippers added two insurance runs in the eighth, taking advantage of two Toledo errors and a misjudged fly ball to extend the lead to 10-4.

McAllister rebounded from his shaky beginning and earned the win, logging six innings pitched while giving up three runs on four hits. He had three strikeouts with four walks. Garcia was charged with the loss for Toledo.

“(McAllister) really made some good adjustments,” manager Mike Sarbaugh said. “He got stronger as the game went on.”

Sarbaugh said the cold, rainy conditions usually work to the advantage of the pitcher, but he was impressed with how the offense performed.

“I thought we put up some good at-bats today,” he said. “Anytime you can score 10 runs like we did, you have to feel good about it.”

Kipnis said the team is starting to get into a rhythm at the plate and that they are becoming acclimated to the weather.

“Everybody is starting to settle into their swings,” he said. “We are all hitting a stride here at the same time as the season starts to get under way.”

The win improves the Clippers’ record to 7-3, while the Mud Hens fell to 3-7. Sarbaugh, however, was very cautious when discussing the team’s record to start the year.

“It’s good to get off to the fast start like we have,” he said, “but we still have a long season ahead of us.”

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