This is the seventh part in a series that looks back at the remarkable season of the 2010 Louisville Bats.
By Josh Cook
No team in the International League needed a break more than the Louisville Bats, especially after that 7-5, 10-inning loss to Columbus on July 11 - the final day before the Triple-A All-Star break. Things had not gone their way so far in the 2010 season. While the parent Cincinnati Reds were surprisingly in the race for the National League Central title, after 92 games Louisville was 44-48 in fourth place in the IL West, 11 ½ games behind the Clippers. At this point a third straight division title was a long-shot at best, but was more like dream.
“I think getting away from baseball is a good thing, especially if you’re struggling,” said shortstop Zack Cozart, who was hitting .255 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs at the break. “It was one of those things where it was probably good for us....mentally we probably weren’t all there and I think that break let the guys go and get away from baseball. And pretty much refresh them.”
Cozart spent the IL All-Star break (July 12-14) with his wife Chelsea and their “kids.”
“We have our dogs here, so we took them walking down by the river, pretty much just family time,” Cozart said. “That’s how I get away from baseball. When I go home I get to go home to my wife and kids, they’re my dogs but I call them my ‘kids.’”
In addition to their family strolls along the Ohio River the Cozarts also went shopping at an Indiana outlet mall one day during the break.
“Just walking around the mall a little bit, relaxing,” Cozart said.
Danny Dorn tried to do the same.
“I just hung out here,” said the first baseman-outfielder, who was batting .319 at the break, but he had played in only 42 games after being hit by a pitch in early May and breaking his hand. “I thought about going home, but I’m from California so it’d kind of be tough – it’s almost a whole day flying there and back. But I hung out here and relaxed, hung out by the pool. I went out and played a round of golf with (catcher) Chris Denove and just rested, didn’t really think about baseball too much.”
One thing, though, forced Dorn to think about baseball during the break.
On the second day of the All-Star break the Bats released their closer, Jon Adkins.
Adkins led the team with 10 saves, and in June had become the franchise’s all-time leader in that category. On June 17 he entered Louisville’s game against Durham with a 2-0 lead, a runner on first and two outs in relief of Bill Bray. He promptly got Angel Chavez to ground into a meek groundout to end the game and earn his 40th career save with the Bats.
That, however, was the high point to what had been an otherwise disappointing season for Adkins in his comeback campaign with the Bats. In 2008 he was an International League All-Star and Louisville’s co-most valuable player, recording 30 saves in 33 save opportunities before appearing in four games with the Reds late in the Major League Baseball regular season.
However he spent 2009 in the Korean Baseball Organization before signing a minor-league contract with the Reds. Although Adkins led the Bats in saves he had a 1-4 record thanks to five blown saves and 5.46 earned-run average, and had lost his job as the team’s closer.
"We just didn't see him having a significant role in the second half of the season," Reds farm director Terry Reynolds told The Courier-Journal about the 32-year-old Adkins. "I will tell you the same thing I told him. He's a quality person. At some point when he feels the time is right, he will be a great coach. He's been a true professional. he handled it with great dignity."
It was a blow to the Bats, maybe more so to their clubhouse than on the field.
“It was tough, he’s a great guy,” Dorn said. “He’s done a lot in this game and had a lot of success. I really liked him a lot. You talk about a guy, he’d come (to the ballpark) and he’s the same guy every day. Doesn’t matter if he pitched three scoreless (innings), or gave up five runs, he was the same every day. He just loved baseball, loved being around his teammates, loved being in the clubhouse, you could really see that in him. He’s been around the game a lot, he enjoyed it. It was pretty tough to see him go, but that’s the way this game is, you lose teammates.
“Guys go up, guys go down, guys get released, it’s the crappy part about the game, but that’s just the way it is. It’s very competitive and that’s why you’ve just got to come out ready to go every day.”
The last day of the All-Star break Cozart and a few players, including Dorn, went to Slugger Field get in a quick workout.
“You can go talk to anybody, if you take too many days off it’s weird, you get more sore taking days off than if you are playing every day,” Cozart said. “Your body is so used to coming out here and doing the same thing every day, then all of the sudden you’re just resting and coming back and trying to do something you’re just tight...So we just came out here to try and get the blood flowing again so we wouldn’t be sore the next day.”
Whether it was a lack of activity, or blood flow, the Bats came out tight the next night against Lehigh Valley in their first game after the All-Star break.
Louisville fell behind 7-0 after 1 ½ innings. It seemed the momentum of that loss to Columbus, as well as the entire first half of the season, had carried over. Louisville looked to be on its way to another loss, which would drop them even further behind Columbus.
But then stated to turn around. Wladimir Balentien led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run to left field. Louisville added to more runs to that to make it 7-3. Then in the seventh Juan Francisco hit a three-run homer to trim the Iron Pigs’ lead to 7-6.
That was still the score entering the bottom of the ninth as Lehigh Valley sent All-Star closer Scott Mathieson to the mound to finish off the Bats. The right-hander had been rock-solid all season and Louisville wasn’t much of a comeback team - the Bats had only one walk-off win to date - so loss number 49 looked like it more a probability than a possibility.
But then Dorn led off with a line-drive double. Todd Frazier followed by lining out to bring up Francisco.
The big-hitting, but soft-spoken slugger who had been the Reds’ Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2008 and 2009. He didn’t waste any time proving that to Mathieson. He blasted the closer’s pitch to deep right field, it was over the fence in seconds.
“Francisco, he’s a freak when it comes to hitting balls,” Dorn said. “I remember being on second base and he hit it, I stood there and watched it, I thought it was going to go over the Budweiser sign (in deep right field) to be honest.
“He’s an unbelievable hitter. Whenever you win it’s great. But when you get a win like that, especially coming from behind, everybody was pretty high after that one...To get that first win, coming back like we did, could’ve gave us some momentum definitely. I remember that game definitely, we were rocking in the clubhouse after that one.”
Added Cozart: “It was almost like a pride thing coming back in that game. We said, ‘We know that we’re better than this,’ and we wanted to come back in the second half of the season and prove that we were a good team. We had talent, and I think winning that game pretty much propelled us.”
It was the shot heard ‘round Slugger Field, and the shot that jump-started the Louisville Bats.