DBAP/ DURHAM—Chris Archer has come home. The Tampa Bay Rays just promoted the Raleigh-born pitcher to the Class AAA Durham Bulls from the Class AA Montgomery Biscuits. He will make his Triple-A debut this Saturday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Archer turns 23 in almost exactly a month. In media years, though, he's a lot older. He is poised, bright and articulate, with a faint but unmistakable central-N.C. accent; quick and deft with answers; handsome and engaging and polished, ready for the cameras that were turned on him Wednesday afternoon as he stood in his workout t-shirt and shorts after throwing some pitches in the bullpen. He is Southern-mannered and courteous. Ask Archer a yes-or-no question and he answers, "Yes, sir."
Archer talked about the home-cooked meals he's going to get now that he's pitching 40 minutes from Mom and Dad. He talked about the excitement of pitching at the DBAP, which he'd only been in once before. He talked about how comfortable the transition was from the Biscuits to the Bulls, because six of his teammates had already made that leap this year and because he played with Russ Canzler, Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer in 2010, when they were all with the Chicago Cubs' Class AA affiliate in Tennessee.
He even handled an unexpectedly geeky question about pitching mechanics. Archer has struggled with his control this season, allowing 80 walks in 134 1/3 innings pitched. How is he attacking the problem, he was asked?
"Where it starts is balance over the rubber," Archer answered. "That's more of a baseball term. Normal people at home probably wouldn't understand, but balance over the rubber is where everything starts for me."
Lacking that consistent balance this year, Archer said he's rushing his delivery and "just getting going too soon."
And that seemed to get right at the heart of every matter.
DBAP/ DURHAM—The Durham Bulls got a lot of breaks last night and lost anyway to Norfolk, 4-3. The Tides made an especially bad S.B.G. that cost them a run; misplayed what should probably have been out into a double; botched a sacrifice (for the second straight night); scored a run for Durham with a throwing error; and hit a batter to turn the inkling of a Bulls threat into a full-blown rally.
Yet for the second straight night, the Bulls failed to drive in runners on third base with less than one out, including Ray Olmedo's game-ending double-play with the tying run on third. The bullpen sprung another ruinous leak. And Durham saw the Tides' closer, Mark Worrell, for the fourth straight game, and for the fourth straight game didn't score against him.
The breaks. Who gets them? And why are they called "breaks," anyway? Broken like glass? Like records? Like habits? A break like an escape from jail? Like a day off? Just what do we mean when talk about getting a break?
All of the above, perhaps.
DBAP/ DURHAM—Did you feel the earthquake? At a little before 2:00 p.m. yesterday, everything began to shake, or more precisely to roll. Somehow, it seemed obvious that we were having an earthquake, even though I had never previously experienced one.
The uncertainty actually arose afterward: What would happen next? Would another temblor strike? Would there be an aftershock? What exactly was an aftershock? Was my chimney going to come down? Would the earth open and swallow us all? Alien and unsettling minutes, quietly disturbed; tremors of the internal kind. They passed.
About six or so hours later, the Durham Bulls had built themselves a comfy 4-0 lead over the Norfolk Tides for ace lefty starter Matt Moore, scoring all four runs on solo homers by Brandon Guyer, Matt Carson, Tim Beckham and Dan Johnson. The Bulls seemed to be sailing toward their 75th win, pushing their division lead over the Gwinnett Braves back up to 5 1/2 games.
But then disaster struck: A pair of Durham relievers, Jay Buente and Adam Russell, each gave up a two-run homer, one in the seventh inning to former Bull Rhyne Hughes, and one in the eighth to John Hester. Those two long balls tied the game at 4-4. It stayed that way until the 13th inning, when two more Bulls relievers, Joe Bateman and Mike Ekstrom, combined to give up three hits, two walks and, most importantly, two runs. Norfolk won, 6-4.
A little interlude here (well, really a long one) while the Durham Bulls enjoy what Brandon Guyer called "this glorious off day"—the Bulls' last of the regular season—in a Tweet early this afternoon. After they split two games this past weekend up in Norfolk (see reports here and here), they find themselves six games ahead of second-place Gwinnett in the International League South Division with 15 to play. Gwinnett plays Charlotte at home tonight, so the number will change by half a game before the Bulls play Norfolk, again, on Tuesday; but either way Durham will still hold its largest division lead of 2011.