DBAP/ DURHAM—Lost in the general happiness of the Durham Bulls' Sunday doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights was this nagging problem: The Bulls haven't been scoring runs. They came into last night's game against Gwinnett having scored 51 of them over their last 13 games, an average of less than four per game, which is a lower rate than Rochester's league-worst 4.01.
It got lower in last night's 2-1 loss to the Gwinnett Braves. The Bulls' lone run scored on a passed ball. The Braves pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Bulls for the IL South Division lead with a week left in the regular season.
The evening put a damper on the Bulls' promising three-game winning streak, literally: rain fell from the middle innings through to the end of the game, which not only made it a soggy affair but probably reduced the potential crowd—10,000 strong on Sunday—to just 4,000 or so Monday night.
The rain also reduced the Bulls again, shrinking their production to just six singles. They had no hits, or even a hard-hit out, after the sixth inning, and none with runners in scoring position all night. They stranded 10 baserunners overall.
There was another ambient effect after the game. The media assembled in Durham manager Charlie Montoyo's office, as usual, for the customary five minutes of interview time, and in its midst all the power went out for a few seconds.
Hey, fans: Tonight's game is not only the last one the Bulls will play against arch-rival Gwinnett, it's the LAST HOME GAME OF THE REGULAR SEASON! If you're out-clicking here, before the jump, let that gut-kicking fact serve as an invitation to get yourself and about 10,000 of your friends out to the DBAP. The torpid Toros could use some very loud cheering, straight from the gut.
DBAP/ DURHAM—The Durham Bulls pulled off a doubleheader sweep of the Charlotte Knights yesterday, beating them 4-3 and then again, 3-0. The two victories gave them a five-game series win over Charlotte, three games to two; more importantly, the Bulls won three straight games in less than 24 hours, nearly setting the Bulls upright after an ugly four-game slump that had slowed their march toward the playoffs to a crawl.
Two wins, so Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said it twice: "Great day, man. Great day."
Most importantly, the Bulls nudged their IL South Division lead over the Gwinnett Braves (who beat Norfolk again) to 3 1/2 games with eight left to play, reducing their so-called "magic number" to clinch the division to an almost-comfortable five games.
What an insulting phrase, "magic number." Yes, it of course refers to the "magic" that awaits teams that make the post-season—if magic is really what it is (ask the 1960 Yankees, the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers, or best of all the 1919 White Sox). But A) you get there by playing the fiendishly hard, unforgiving, body-grinding game of baseball just about every single sweaty mundane day for five months; and B) the number itself is calculated by a very unmagical process known as math: Any combination of Bulls wins and Gwinnett losses totaling five gives the Bulls the division title.
This is not to take the romance out of it, but only to honor what Class AAA ballplayers do 144 times in a season, with a grand total of 10 days off. Yesterday's doubleheader was an especially strong reminder of the repetitive nature of the season: the Bulls and Knights played a game of baseball, took a 30-minute break to change uniforms while the grounds crew freshened up the field, and then came right back out and played another one.
Watching two games in a row helped dispel the hocus-pocus that the term "magic number" implies. The game of baseball itself is magical—methinks its very repetition is what makes it magical, along with its precision and its relentless dailiness. Wins and losses are not magic. They are the cumulative evidence of how much magic your hard work, your discipline and your patience with failure have created. If the Bulls make the playoffs—which they probably should, given the circumstances—they will have gotten there not by sleight of hand but by handwork; not by trickery, but by uprightness.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Last night, the Durham Bulls edged the Charlotte Knights, 3-2, to end a worrisome four-game losing streak. Raleigh-born Chris Archer, making his Class AAA debut, threw six solid innings of three-hit baseball to earn the win. The Gwinnett Braves beat Norfolk, so the Bulls retained their three-game division lead with 10 left to play.
I'm sure this etymology has been widely broadcast, or perhaps you already knew that the name "Irene" comes from that of a Greek goddess. Irene was the goddess of peace, and there's an adjective, irenic—"promoting peace; peaceful; pacific," as my dictionary defines it—correlated to the name. Or maybe vice versa.
Plenty of commentators must have noted that it was
irenic ironic that a destructive force majeure would bear such a name. Irene battered North Carolina yesterday, causing several deaths, copious floods and damage, and widespread power outages. Weather remains one of the only hazards human beings have not yet learned to control or ward off. There is nothing you can do but absorb the damage, lament the losses, and then recover.
DBAP/ DURHAM—During his post-game interview last night, after Charlotte clobbered the Bulls again, 10-4, Knights manager Joe McEwing said: "One thing I won't ever forget is how hard this game is."
He said that last time I interviewed him, too, way back on April 20, in virtually the exact same words: "One thing I'll never forget is how hard this game is."
I ran with that in April, and even though it's clearly a line McEwing feeds the media, I'm running with it again four months later. That's partly because I got home from the ballgame, gathered round the old Twitter, and was confronted with this tweet from the great Neko Case:
Music is too hard. Other people make it look so F-ing easy.
McEwing and Case affirmed what I'd been thinking while I watched the Bulls lose their fourth straight game: Right now, everything about the game of baseball looks really hard for them, and they compound the difficulty by making it harder on themselves.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Convenient of the Bulls to schedule their annual Bark in the Park bring-your-dog promotion to coincide with the team's current slobbering and panting and begging ways. The Bulls made a dog's breakfast of a manageable 4-3, deficit last night, helping the Charlotte Knights send 12 batters to the plate in the seventh inning and score eight runs en route to a 12-7 whipping of the locals. The Bulls have lost three straight games, and four of five overall, to bad teams. This dog won't be in the (playoff) hunt unless it starts dominating the runts again.
The Gwinnett Braves did what the Bulls could not: they beat Norfolk at home (and Charlotte at home, twice, before that), and crept to within three games of the Bulls for first place in the IL South Division with 12 left to play. The two teams go head to head for two games at the DBAP on Monday and Tuesday. Four days ago, it seemed like those games might wind up being virtually meaningless, but with Gwinnett having recovered from their own bad stretch—they went 2-6 from August 14-21—and the Bulls currently ensconced in a three-game losing streak, you might need to drop whatever bone you're planning to worry those nights, and get out to the ballpark.