By Josh Cook
The Louisville Bats won a game, and a division, Monday afternoon.
The Bats beat the Indianapolis Indians 6-3 on Labor Day, the final day of the International League regular season, at Louisville Slugger Field. Louisville’s victory, coupled with Columbus’ 5-2 loss to Toledo, gave the Bats their third straight IL West title.
It also capped an incredible regular-season comeback by Louisville (79-64), which trailed the Clippers by 13 games on July 4 and ended up finishing a half-game ahead of them. The Bats went 35-16 after the IL All-Star break, and that includes going 5-8 over their final 13 games as they dealt with call-ups by the parent Cincinnati Reds.
Louisville - which opens the postseason Wednesday - had lost four of its last five games against the Indians, but on Monday the Bats scored five runs in the first three innings. They also got a solid start from Ben Jukich, who had a no-hitter heading into the sixth inning, as well as 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief from a pair of pitchers.
In the first Zack Cozart singled with one out, moved to third on Danny Dorn’s double. Both would score on Sean Henry’s single off Indy starter Brad Lincoln.
Dave Sappelt’s two-out solo home run - his first of the season - gave the Bats a 3-0 lead in the second.
Then in the third Lincoln walked Frazier with one out, gave up an infield single to Henry, then walked Devin Mesoraco to load the bases.
Dana Eveland came on in relief of Lincoln (7-5) and didn’t get any help from his defense. Indy third baseman Akinori Iwamura misplayed a ball off the bat of Wilkin Castillo that allowed both Frazier and Henry to score to make it 5-0 Louisville.
However Indy scored once in the sixth and two in the seventh to close within 5-3.
Pedro Ciriaco led off the sixth with double off Jukich. He moved to third on Doug Bernier’s single, then scored on Alex Presley’s ground out.
In the seventh Jonathan Van Every hit a one-out solo homer off Jukich, who hasn‘t lost a start since June. The lanky left-hander gave up a two-out walk to Brian Friday before being relieved by Micah Owings. The right-hander gave up a double to Melillo to score Friday, a run that was charged to Jukich (7-4), who allowed three hits and three earned runs while walking three and striking out four over 6 2/3 innings.
Owings then got Ciriaco to pop out to end the threat.
Louisville added some insurance in the bottom of the inning when Frazier hit a one-out solo homer - his 17th of the season - off Indy reliever Corey Hamman.
Owings and Jared Burton limited the Indians to three hits over the final 2 1/3 innings.
Still Indy had a chance to deny Louisville its third straight division title. In the ninth Van Every led off with a single, then Friday reached on a fielding error by Cozart (Louisville’s shortstop) with two outs. But after a coaching visit to the mound Burton got Melillo to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play for his fourth save of the season.
Sappelt, Frazier and Henry accounted for six of Louisville’s eighth hits with two apiece.
The Bats begin their best-of-five series against IL South winner Durham (88-55) at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday at Slugger Field. The second game will be at the same time Thursday evening. Tickets are on sale now.