By Josh Cook
The Louisville Bats capped off an incredible, and improbable, 2010 regular season Monday.
Here is a look back at the Top 10 moments of the 2010 season so far, as the Bats prepare for their best-of-five playoff series that begins at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday night against the Durham Bulls at Louisville Slugger Field.
TOP 10 MOMENTS OF BATS' 2010 REGULAR SEASON
10. Bats-Braves rained out. At the time Louisville's July 26 rainout at Gwinnett didn't seem all that important. The Bats, who had gone 9-2 since the International League All-Star break, started the day 10 games out of first place in the IL West. With no more meetings against the Braves scheduled for the season it was announced that the game would not be made up, therefore Louisville would play 143 regular-season games instead of 144. As it turned out that game - or half-game in the standings - turned out to be very important for the Bats (79-64), who won the IL West by a half-game over Columbus (79-65).
9. Chapman's debut. No player in the Cincinnati Reds' organization entered this season with as much hype as Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban defector with a fastball clocked in the triple digits signed a $30 million contract with the Reds in January. He was expected to compete for the No. 5 spot in the Reds' starting rotation, however an injury late in spring training, as well as his newness to the game of American professional baseball led to Chapman starting the season in Triple-A. In his debut - April 11 at Toledo - Chapman didn't disappoint. In 4 2/3 innings he allowed one unearned run and five hits while walking one and striking out nine. Limited by a pitch count Chapman didn't figure in the decision (Louisville won the game 2-1), but 55 of the 85 pitches her threw went for strikes.
8. Back-to-back 16s. Louisville's offense struggled mightily early in the season (averaging 3.1 runs in its first 24 games), but the Bats' bats began to show signs of life in early May. Two games after scoring 20 runs they scored 16 runs in consecutive victories (16-3, 16-5) over Rochester on May 7-8. Veteran catcher Corky Miller had seven RBIs over those two wins.
7. Bats put up 20. April was atrocious for Louisville. The Bats went 7-15 in the season's first month, losing their final seven, and had lost nine in a row after the first two days of May. However Louisville ended its losing skid in a big way - scoring a season-high 20 runs on a season-high 24 hits in a 20-7 win at Buffalo. It was really the first sign of life for a Bats' offense that would end up leading the IL in home runs (160 ), total bases (2200) and slugging percentage (.447), finishing second in doubles (314), third in runs (708), RBIs (667) and triples (34) and on-base plus slugging (.777) and fourth in hits (1,338) and batting average (.272).
6. LeCure's near no-no. On May 22 Louisville right-hander Sam LeCure flirted with the first nine-inning no-hitter in the history of Slugger Field. LeCure held Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitless until Chad Huffman's line-drive single to center field with one out in the top of the eighth inning. That was the only hit LeCure, who was the Bats' best starting pitcher early in the season, would allow. He also walked two and struck out five in the complete-game effort. Ironically the first no-no in Slugger Field history would come just six days later when the Bats were held hitless by Gwinnett's Todd Redmond.
5. Bats beat Toledo, take over first place. On the Fourth of July the Louisville Bats were 13 games out of first place and sitting in the IL West basement. On Aug. 12 they won 10-4 at Toledo - Chris Valaika and Wladimir Balentien (Louisville’s only IL post-season All-Stars) had four hits apiece, while newcomer Eric Eymann had four RBIs - to take over first place in the division. It was the first time Louisville led the West outright since April 11 - the fourth day of the regular season.
4. Mesoraco's back-to-back grand slams. In his Triple-A debut catcher Devin Mesoraco hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to give Louisville a 5-3 win over Syracuse on Aug. 18. The next night he hit a grand slam in his first at-bat to lead the Bats to a 6-2 win over the Chiefs.
3. Chapman hits 105 and Castillo's walk-off single. A third digit was added to radar gun register in right-center field at Slugger Field before the season started in part because of Chapman, the flame-throwing southpaw. And although he regularly reached 100 miles per hour, especially after his move to the bullpen, neither he nor anyone else at Slugger Field had seen him register 105 mph on the radar gun as he did in the top of the ninth Aug. 27 against Columbus. Chapman struck out the side, then picked up the victory when Wilkin Castillo ended the game with a one-out, walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. It would be Chapman's final appearance of the regular season for the Bats. He was called up by the Reds a few days later.
2. Francisco's walk-off homer caps incredible comeback. There may have been no bigger at-bat in the Bats' regular season than the one by Juan Francisco in the bottom of the ninth against Lehigh Valley on July 15. In its first game after the IL All-Star break Louisville trailed the Iron Pigs 7-0 after 1 1/2 innings at Slugger Field. However the Bats rallied for three runs in the bottom of the second and three more in the seventh to pull within 7-6. Then in the ninth new Lehigh Valley pitcher Scott Mathieson gave up a leadoff double to Danny Dorn before getting Todd Frazier to line out. Francisco followed with a two-run homer that gave the Bats an 8-7 win and jump-started the second half of their season. Louisville would win 24 of its first 27 games, including 11 in a row from July 22-Aug. 3, after the all-star break.
1. Bats win third straight division title. What seemed impossible on July 4 became a reality Monday afternoon when the Bats beat Indianapolis 6-3 and Toledo clipped Columbus 5-2 to give Louisville its third straight IL West title.