By Josh Cook
The Louisville Bats keep stealing victories any way they can.
Monday night they stole six bases on their way to a 6-5 win over host Toledo at Fifth Third Field in the first game of a four-game series.
The victory - their 16th in their last 17 games - moved the Bats (65-51) within two games of International League West-leading Columbus (67-49), whose Monday game at Syracuse was rained out.
Louisville still leads Buffalo (61-54), which beat Lehigh Valley 8-1 Monday night, by 3 1/2 games in the race for the IL wildcard playoff berth.
The win also improved the Bats to 8-2 in one-run games in July and August after they went 8-16 in such games over April, May and June.
Things started off well for Louisville against the Mud Hens (56-60). The Bats scored one run in the first inning thanks to some help from Toledo starter L.J. Gagnier.
Zack Cozart singled off Gagnier with one out, then began Louisville's thieving. He stole second and third, then scored after Gagnier brought him in by walking Todd Frazier, Wladimir Balentien and Danny Dorn in a row.
The Mud Hens, however, answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning off Louisville starter Matt Maloney.
The Bats tied the score in the third when Yonder Alonso led off with a double, then came home on Dorn's two-out, two-run homer.
Louisville took the lead in the fifth when Frazier walked with two outs, stole second, then scored on Balentien's ground-rule double.
The Mud Hens tied the game in the bottom of the inning, but the Bats retook the lead in the sixth. Chris Valaika led off the inning with a single off new pitcher Josh Rainwater (2-4). He advanced to second on Michael Griffin's sacrifice bunt, then scored on Wilkin Castillo's single. Castillo moved to second on the throw back into the infield, then scored on Alonso's RBI-double.
Toledo pulled within one in the seventh when Casper Wells led off with a double off Louisville reliever Philippe Valiquette. He advanced to third on a wild pitch by Valiquette, then scored on another one.
Maloney (10-5) became the Bats' first double-digit winner this season, giving up four earned runs and nine hits while walking one and striking out five over five innings. It was also Maloney's fourth win in his last five starts as he rebounded from a rough no-decision - he gave up seven earned runs in five innings at Columbus last Wednesday.
Valiquette tossed 1 2/3 innings, while Jason Isringhausen, Enerio Del Rosario and Daniel Ray Herrera combined for the final 2 1/3 innings. Herrera pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save of the season.
Castillo, Cozart and Alonso led Louisville's 10-hit attack with two apiece. The Bats stole six bases collectively, led by Cozart's three. The trio of swipes gave Cozart 28 for the season, which ties him for second in the IL behind Syracuse outfielder and former University of Louisville standout Boomer Whiting.
The Bats and Mud Hens meet again at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
Photo courtesy Louisville Bats