DBAP/ DURHAM—Before the Bulls beat Buffalo today, 5-2, I had the opportunity to interview Chaim Bloom, the Tampa Bay Rays' Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. Bloom is here on his usual rounds of the Rays' farm teams and training complexes, checking up on the organization's players. He's a young, intelligent Yale alum who told me that he had always wanted to be in baseball operations. He wrote for the esteemed Baseball Prospectus Web site and did internships with a couple of teams before taking one with the Rays, and it didn't take long for him to land a job. I asked him how he pulled it off, and he chalked it up to "persistence and luck." As it happened, the Bulls needed a bit of the former and a lot of the latter to win tonight.
DBAP/ DURHAM---It's getting almost boring, reporting on Carlos Hernandez when he starts for the Bulls. He baffled the Bisons last night for eight innings---the longest start of the year by a Bulls pitcher---and his mates poured on the runs in the middle third of the game. Durham won, 10-2. The big blows were three-run homers by Jon Weber and Ray Sadler, which came three at-bats apart in a six-run sixth.
Before I get to the game itself, yet another Bull on the move:
DBAP/ DURHAM---I wondered whether mentioning yesterday that Buffalo was the worst team in the league would jinx the Bulls when they returned home to host the Bisons. Sure enough, the visitors trounced the locals, 9-3, last night. The only drama was provided by a swath of dark, apocalyptic storm clouds that passed north of the DBAP during the middle innings and put on an "ooohh/aaahh!" light show. Pop flies gleamed in the stadium lights against this cinematic, final-scene-of-Ghostbusters backdrop. The postgame fireworks were thus anti-climactic for two reasons: first, we'd already gotten our pyrotechnics; second, the onfield excitement had been drained out by the sixth inning. Plus, as soon as the first rockets were launched into the air, it started to rain hard.
The reason for the loss was obvious and simple: Wade Davis, now Durham's No. 1 prospect with David Price in Tampa (he starts for the Rays tonight), had a poor outing, probably his worst of the year. Davis was named the International League's Pitcher of the Week last week in recognition of two superb starts, but he got knocked around for 10 hits and six runs over 5 2/3 innings, and seemed unable to locate his fastball or his slider. He wasn't fooling the Buffalo hitters, who swung and missed only six times at Davis's 100 pitches (63 strikes).
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—Yep, I looked it up. Just as I suspected, the word "paladini" is the Italian plural for champion, for medieval hero, for defender of a cause.
RailHawks midfielder Daniel Paladini is in brilliant form right now, and when his team needed a goal tonight, he delivered it. In the 90th minute of a 0-0 stalemate against a courageous, if overmatched, Cleveland side, Paladini lined up for a free kick from 30 yards out and to the left of the goal. Prior to taking it, he told center back and team captain Mark Schulte that he would be aiming for the far post, and that Schulte and the others in the penalty box should be prepared for a rebound. As it happened, the only assistance Paladini needed on his shot was of the most passive kind.
After two frustrating seasons, fans in WakeMed Soccer Park tonight will be excused for some hard-earned self-congratulation—and considering the woefulness of the opponent, the Cleveland City Stars, who are in 10th place with only two goals scored versus 12 allowed, they should expect to see three more points added to the Carolina RailHawks' points column.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="358" caption="The Bulls have owned the Keystone Sack for the last two days."][/caption]The Bulls pounded six doubles today at Rochester to add to the eight they hit yesterday and held on to beat the Red Wings, 8-7. Those 14 doubles over two games represent almost 14% of the team's season total, and they lead the league in the category. They also lead in homers---although, amazingly, they hit none during their two-game doubles barrage---and are second in walks drawn.
The win today finished off a 6-2 road trip. The Bulls are now 30-17 and trail Norfolk by 1.5 games in the IL South. They're as far over .500 as the team has been in over a year. In other words, the Bulls haven't missed a beat even though they've lost five players to the major-league squad and three more to injury while they've been away---that's nearly a third of the roster (!). So many new faces were mustered in mid-trip that Charlie Montoyo must have needed name tags to recognize his charges.
We've been away from the first-place RailHawks for a bit (and away from the Triangle, actually). To put a finer point on it, we've been in New York, we've been in Brazil, we've been distracted by things like European Champions League football (Messi! Eto'o! Xavi! Iniesta! Puyol!).
But we're catching up in advance of Friday night's nationally televised engagement with the Cleveland City Stars at WakeMed Soccer Park. First, we learn, courtesy of Tim Candon, the RailHawks' official blogger, that their opponent in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup will be the USL-2 Richmond Kickers on Tuesday, June 9, at home. The ’Hawks, it should be noted, lost a preseason friendly to the Kickers in Richmond. If they survive the Kickers, then the Round 2 opponent will be one of two other North Carolina sides: the Wilmington Hammerheads or the Charlotte Eagles, both of the USL-2. That game would be on June 16.
Also, word arrived yesterday afternoon that three RailHawks made the USL-1 team of the week: Andriy Budnyy, the Ukrainian striker who is finding more minutes on the pitch after an under-the-radar preseason; Daniel Paladini, who is emerging as a crucial midfield linchpin; and the redoubtable, versatile three-year club veteran Kupono Low, playing well whether he's needed at left back or holding midfielder. Budnyy scored the opening goal in the team's 3-0 blanking of Cleveland last week, while Paladini has two assists in that game and scored the sole goal on a PK in Sunday's 1-0 victory over the Austin Aztex. Low, for his part, is a big reason why the RailHawks haven't conceded a goal in three outings.
We'll have more on the RailHawks tomorrow, but for the moment we're looking for another replay of Barsa-ManUtd...
Yesterday I was worrying about the potential suppressive effects of the rash of recent callups to Tampa and assorted injuries on the Bulls' hitting, especially down at the bottom of the order. Before that I had turned an eye to the remaining sluggers in the lineup, noting that they'd have to step it up in order to keep the team in runs.
Apparently, the whole team gathered round the old laptop, because last night they pounded out a season-high 17 hits in routing Rochester, 13-2 at Frontier Field. Sure enough, remaining slugger Matt Joyce paced the attack with three doubles and six RBI; and down in the ninth slot in the lineup, newly-promoted (from Montgomery) shortstop Brandon Chaves went 4-4. All of his hits were singles, but 4-4 is pretty perfect, and Chaves added a walk to his quartet of singles and so reached base in all five of his plate appearances. In all, the Bulls hit eight doubles (!) and a triple, the latter by catcher Craig Albernaz—his second of the season, improbably. Catchers hitting triples is lunar-eclipse rare. In Albernaz's case, it ought to be mentioned that he was gifted his first three-bagger of the season when Wes Bankston approached Albernaz's opposite-field pop fly like he was auditioning for the Family Circus comic strip.
Depletion showed its presence in the Bulls' 5-2 loss at Rochester yesterday. According to the Bulls' official game story, sent by broadcaster Neil Solondz when the team is on the road, only one reliever was available last night. Chad Orvella pitched three innings in relief of an inoffensive James Houser (five innings, four hits, three walks, two runs) and apparently faded in the last of them: He gave up a game-winning, three-run homer to the Red Wings' David Winfree. Normally, Orvella wouldn't have been out there for a third frame.
Answering a general question I asked him during the last homestand, Charlie Montoyo told me that there's no ban on relievers working consecutive days, but I'm fairly certain that he hasn't allowed that to happen this season. He may have meant that he would only do it if absolutely necessary, like in an extra innings game or due to an in-game injury---and remember that merely winning a game isn't always a necessity when you're managing an increasingly motley and unstable roster of players, and also hauling a cargo of invalids along with you. The herd has been hard to keep together over the last week, and it just got harder. A stampede of transaction notes follows.
The most unfortunate part of the Carolina Hurricanes' faceplant in the Eastern Conference Finals is that in the grand scheme of the 2009 playoffs, despite their fantastic comebacks and thrilling upset victories, the ‘Canes turned out to be nothing but a skid mark on the padded shorts of the Pittsburgh Penguins on the way to their second straight cup finals berth.
But forget that. This postseason was better than Hurricane fans had any right to expect. Midway though the year, it looked as though Carolina wouldn’t even make the playoffs for the third straight year. Paul Maurice completely turned this team around and should be rewarded with a contract this summer. The ‘Canes took off in the latter half of this season and was one of the hottest teams in the league headed into the playoffs.