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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Durham Bulls lose fourth straight, fall out of first: feathers and horns

Posted by on Sun, Jul 12, 2009 at 5:00 AM

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A second consecutive night of painfully inefficient hitting doomed the Bulls last night at Norfolk and dropped them a game behind the Tides for first place in the International League South Division. They had 12 hits, including four doubles, and a couple of walks, but went 2-13 with runners in scoring position (does that sound familiar?) and left 10 men on base in a 4-3 loss.

And when they finally did appear to get the hit they needed, it was taken away: leading off the ninth inning, down 4-3 after having erased most of a 4-0 deficit in the seventh and eighth, Henry Mateo was robbed of extra bases on a diving catch by Tides' first baseman Brandon Snyder, whose wind-aided two-run homer in the sixth provided the critical insurance runs Norfolk needed. Naturally, it was the first Triple-A long ball of the season for Snyder, who was called up to Norfolk three weeks ago. And naturally, it was the second straight night that Mateo lost what would have been a crucial extra-base hit in the ninth inning on a fine fielding play. Had Snyder not made his grab, Reid Brignac's ensuing double would scored Mateo and tied the game.

Which is to say that luck, that little Plutonic gremlin, continues to bedevil/beatify the Bulls in more or less equal measures. You could even make the case that luck is what sends the Bulls up on these big waves of winning and then crashes them under into riptides of losing. Last night's loss was Durham's fourth straight, and all four have come by narrow margins. I'll try to remember to crunch the numbers again over the All-Star break, but I'm fairly sure that somewhere around 40% of Durham's 89 games this year have been decided by fewer than three runs. If hope is the thing with feathers, luck is the thing with horns---horns that keep locking with the Bulls'. In half of those battles, the Bull will win. The margin above .500 is yielded by hard work, readiness and persistence. The talent in Durham, in any case, is there.

And if you're a fan, don't lose the thing with feathers, either. For one thing, luck changes, as regularly as the seasons. For another, what differentiates this losing streak from the ugly skid back in June is that the Bulls keep clawing their way back into games they might easily have given up on. Before, they kept losing their grasp on leads, or never mounting a serious effort against deficits. Now they're fighting. Eventually, some of the late rallies that have lately been falling short are bound to succeed. Note that the Bulls are actually hitting very well these days, and will continue to do so. They just have to do it at the right moments, and they will.

Nonetheless, over the next couple of weeks the Bulls will have to fight a little harder, reach a little deeper. Not only is the competition going to be stiffer for a while---which could unmask the Bulls as a slightly lesser team than their high-water mark suggested about a month ago (this was never a true 37-21 ballclub)---but most of it will occur on the road.

Tomorrow's series finale at Norfolk, an early afternoon tilt that takes the team into the All-Star break, doesn't look good on paper: with Andy Sonnanstine out with illness, it'll be a bullpen smorgasbord; look for a bowl of DePaula and a platter of Medlock, plus smaller sides of assorted relief surprises. I don't know why---maybe it's just the feathers talking---but doesn't it seem like a game the Bulls are somehow sure to win?

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