I had plans last night and stopped listening to the Durham Bulls' radio broadcast with the Bulls leading Syracuse, 5-0, in the seventh inning. Matt Joyce hit a grand slam in the first inning and Bulls' starter Jeremy Hellickson was cruising, having allowed just a single baserunner. The Bulls seemed well on their way to an easy win on getaway day.
I should have known better. Hellickson allowed a two-out, three-run homer to Seth Bynum in the bottom of the seventh---long balls are his one obvious weakness so far---and gave the Chiefs life. The Bulls added a run to their lead in the next inning on a passed ball, but not before Syracuse outfielder Justin Maxwell got ejected, the second time he's been tossed from a game versus the Bulls this year. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, his ejection had to do with the last out of the seventh inning, on which Maxwell grounded out to third base and protested the call at first. Manager Tim Foli joined him in the dispute and in the clubhouse. Must have been a fun argument to watch. I hope I never make Justin Maxwell mad.
Sometimes ejections light a fire under a team, and in this case Jason Childers had a gasoline can with him when he came on to replace Hellickson in the eighth inning. With a 6-3 Bulls lead, Childers faced four batters and retired none of them. It went: triple, double, single, single, Dale Thayer. Thayer got charged with a blown save when he allowed a game-tying sacrifice fly to Daryle Ward. (This is, by the way, a ridiculous rule. All Thayer did was retire all three men he faced in order, but it's he, rather than Childers (who put the man on third base), whose stats take a hit.)
Anyway, the Bulls scored three more runs in the top of the ninth. Shawn Riggans had a two-run double and Michel Hernandez added his third sacrifice fly in two days. Winston Abreu, suddenly Sandman again, eliminated a one-out walk with a double play, and this one goes in the win column, 9-6. Deep breath.
The Bulls now have a 3.5-game lead over Syracuse in the wild-card chase. A couple of quick notes follow.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The "death march" is on for the Carolina Mudcats.
They go into tonight's game with the Tennessee Smokies, who are tied for first place in the Southern League's North Division, with a "tragic number" of two for elimination from the playoff race.
Barring about the biggest miracle in the history of sports that's inevitable before the end of the season, but it's a fact that no matter what happens today the Mudcats will go into every game the rest of the year knowing tomorrow's game could be just for pride.
The Mudcats have yet another transaction as Louisville's roster gets set for the almost certain Governors' Cup Playoff spot, as catcher Korey Feiner is now in Triple-A.
There's not going to be much of a crowd in the house tonight, so let's grab an Italian sausage and play.
It's a welcome relief for the home fans, as Camilo Vazquez (pictured) is absolutely dealing to start the game and his teammates are scoring runs. And it all turns out happy this time as the Mudcats hang on for a 7-6 win.
Carolina gets to Hung-Wen Chen for a run in the first as Kris Negron leads off with an infield hit, followed by Jose Castro's single to center and Yonder Alonzo's sacrifice fly to left.
And the Mudcats pour on four more runs in the second. Shaun Cumberland leads off with a double to right and steals third. Sean Henry follows with a walk and a steal before Logan Parker's RBI grounder to short. Jake Long hits an RBI single to left, then moves over on Vazquez's bunt to third. Negron - an American who after the game tries a clubhouse prank of pretending to need a translator - then blasts the next pitch off the left-field scoreboard to make it 5-0.
The Smokies figure out Vazquez with one out in the sixth. Jim Adduci starts the rally with an infield hit to third, followed by Ty Wright's RBI double to right. With two out, Tyler Colvin hits an RBI single to right, and after Marquez Smith walks Welington Castillo hits an RBI double to left to chase the starter and bring on Ruben Medina.
Tennessee adds another in the seventh, as pinch-hitter Doug Deeds singles and later scores on Blake Lalli's two-out single to left.
But Negron and the Mudcats get some insurance in the seventh, as Long leads off with a double to left and scores when Negron blasts a 2-1 offering off the net protecting the numbers on the scoreboard in left.
Carolina turns out to need the insurance because of the Tennessee eighth. With one out, Castillo singles up the middle and then Tony Thomas hits a ball toward second baseman Negron who commits two errors on the play. With runners on second and third pinch hitter Russ Canzler reaches on another error by shortstop Cozart, with two runs scoring to make it 7-6.
And there's some loud and celebrative - although not particularly tasteful - music in the home clubhouse after the win.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Negron is really athletic and exciting. Vazquez has been doing a great job, especially since he's been starting. I think he's opened some eyes. I like hearing that music. This game's a lot more fun when you win."
Negron: "I didn't think either one of those balls was going to go out. I'm more of a little guy than a home-run hitter."
Vazquez: "I thought it was a pretty good outing until the sixth. Guys were doing their jobs and making plays behind me. I wanted to finish the inning, but they made the right call in taking me out."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are still not mathematically eliminated from the race, and that Tennessee is tied for second a game back of division leader West Tenn.
Stars of the game
1. Negron, for his two homers and the infield hit.
2. Vazquez, for the solid start and the win.
3. Castillo, for his three hits including two doubles with an RBI.
Play of the game
Negron's second homer that provided the game-winning run.
Tennessee leads 17-12.
Carolina: Won 1.
Tennessee: Lost 1.
Carolina: C Korey Feiner promoted to Louisville. C Jake Long promoted from Sarasota to Carolina.
Tennessee at Carolina, Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.
Casey Coleman (R, 13-6, 3.83) vs. Alexander Smit (L, 3-3, 4.06)
The Syracuse Chiefs took a 2-0 lead over the Durham Bulls early in last night's game, and Bulls broadcaster Neil Solondz noted that the Bulls had done the same in Sunday's game before the Chiefs rallied to win, 3-2. You got the sense that he was hoping the Bulls might reverse the stream and visit the same comeback on Syracuse. Sure enough, the Bulls tied the game with two runs in the sixth, then won it in the eighth, by that same 3-2 score, on Michel Hernandez's second sacrifice fly of the night.
This was a big win for the Bulls. They dropped Syracuse 2.5 games behind them in the wild-card chase; elsewhere, both Norfolk and Toledo lost and each team fell five games back; and Gwinnett lost both games of a doubleheader at home to Charlotte. That pulled the Bulls to within 2.5 games of the Braves for the South Division lead. Plenty can happen between now and Saturday, when the Braves visit the DBAP for four games, but if the Bulls can stay close, it'll be a critical series. If nothing else, the Bulls can add another important game to their wild-card lead on Tuesday if they can beat Syracuse again. They can also earn their first series win in their last six.
Game details and notes follow.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 3 of the Carolina Mudcats' five-game homestand against a hot Tennessee Smokies club, and if for nothing more than to lift the mood in the clubhouse the home team needs a victory.
Tennessee has been holding up its end of the deal recently in its three-way battle with in-state rivals West Tenn and Chattanooga, while the Mudcats - who come into the game with a "tragic number" of four with nearly two weeks left in the season - are going to have to get it going to finish fourth in the Southern League's North Division.
The Mudcats do have one of their marquee players back in Yonder Alonzo (pictured), who is back from Sarasota after going on the disabled list back on June 18 with a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Tennessee's Jeremy Papelbon, who pitched on Sunday, is having a good day as he has been named the SL's pitcher of the week.
It looks like the weather is going to be good for this one, so after watching Smokies skipper Ryne Sandberg sign a long line of autographs let's get a cheeseburger and play ball.
This one gets ugly early, and ends up with the Smokies winning 16-9. Trust me, Monday's contest was a good one to miss.
The Bulls' Joe Bateman hit consecutive batters in the ninth inning last night in Syracuse, but it was the Bulls who felt the pain. The Chiefs' Norris Hopper hit a two-out, game-
winning single to score one of the plunkees, handing the Bulls a 3-2 loss.
So it wasn't walks that did the Bulls in, but a sort of fast-track walk, the hit batter. And where the Bulls' clutch hitting tends to abet control problems in losses, last night the lineup didn't even mount enough threats to set up clutch situations. The Bulls scored twice in the second inning (with help from a pair of, ahem, walks); after that, they had only four baserunners, and just one of those advanced to second base.
Wade Davis did a fine job on the mound for the Bulls, but a Reid Brignac error helped an unearned run score, and Davis gave up a solo homer to (I told you to watch out for) Brad Eldred. Davis's counterpart, the Chiefs' Marco Estrada---the same guy who opposed him a couple of weeks ago at the DBAP---was again excellent. He stifled the Bulls on August 8, allowing just a pair of unearned runs on two hits in seven innings; last night, he allowed two runs in six innings, overcoming his second-inning control problems and matching Davis's results. Charlie Montoyo was reluctant to credit Estrada in the August 8 ballgame, choosing instead to blame his hitters' approach at the plate. But after Estrada shut Durham down again last night, one has to concede that Estrada himself may have been the reason for his success.
Some curious bullpen management by Montoyo last night: Dale Thayer replaced Davis in the seventh and tossed a pair of scoreless innings, leaving he ninth for Bateman. Usually, it would be Thayer handling the late shift, with Bateman setting him up. There's definitely a reason for the switch, perhaps Tampa-related, and Bateman has closed out games for Montoyo before; still, it's a bit of a head-scratcher.
In the Bulls' official game report, you'll happen upon a typo: "The Bulls are 1.5 games behind Syracuse in the wild card race and four games in front of Toledo and Norfolk." The Bulls are actually 1.5 games ahead of the Chiefs, but the mistake reflects some growing pessimism, even inside the organization, about the Bulls' state of affairs. Although the team is still lined up for a playoff spot, lately they haven't looked like they're headed for the post-season. Good games are followed by bad ones, the club's overall energy rises and falls, and their record over the last three weeks is just 10-12. The Bulls look middling, inconsistent, beatable.
Meanwhile, Gwinnett keeps on winning and now has a four-game lead over Durham in the International League South Division. And the wild-card race is thickening---in the quotation nestled in the paragraph above, careful readers will have spotted Toledo now entering the rear-view mirror (this is not a NASCAR post!), thanks to the Mud Hens' eight-game winning streak. Make no mistake: if the Bulls coast all the way into Labor Day at a .500 pace, one of the three teams on their tail will overtake them. The law of averages virtually assures it.
A quick note about the roster. Chris Richard had a cortisone shot in his wrist (maybe he and Carlos Hernandez, who also had one recently, can compare notes), and he's expected back perhaps as early as Monday. In the interest of giving Joe Dillon most of a night off on Sunday, Charlie Montoyo started Henry Mateo at first base, which is something I can't even picture. Dillon entered the game late when Mateo moved to second to replace Akinori Iwamura, who played a scheduled seven innings. Elliot Johnson (strained quadriceps) is eligible to come off the disabled list, and he has been running and taking batting practice. Look for him to return to action very soon. He'll give the team a boost. It needs one.
Andy Sonnanstine pitches for the Bulls on Monday night. If the Chiefs' rotation is still in the same order, his opponent will be Ross Detwiler. Those two faced each other at the DBAP on August 9, and the Bulls shredded Detwiler on their way to giving Sonnanstine an easy 11-5 win.
... for Duke and UNC to fight over while obsessed fans -- and mostly bored media -- salivate at every word, action and subtle hint over the workings of a high schooler's mind.
Although Harrison Barnes -- No. 1 recruit for 2010 according to Scout.com -- has not cooperated with the salivating journalists and issued contradictory hints that send fan bases swirling; on the contrary, he has played his hand much closer to the vest than John Wall, an enrolling freshman at Kentucky whose recruitment turned into a circus following John Calipari's jump to Kentucky, UNC's late entrance into the picture after the Final Four and the use of an official visit to NCCU, which was obviously designed to irk said journalists.
A much less whimsical recruit, Barnes narrowed his list to six schools Sunday and said he would officially visit UNC Sept. 4, several media outlets are reporting. Barnes cut his list to Duke, UNC, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Iowa State.
Often considered a Duke lean based on several unofficial visits to Durham and the famous (or infamous) sitting-behind-the-Duke-bench-against-UNC-in-Cameron gate, Barnes will see all the guns and whistles of the thriving Carolina program while attending the UNC Alumni Game in the Smith Center.
But Barnes has said he will use all of his official visits, which just means that UNC is getting the first crack at him in what will likely be a long, drawn out arms race between college basketball's blue bloods.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 2 of the Carolina Mudcats' five-game homestand against the Tennessee Smokies, and it's about getting to the point where the home team is playing for pride - and for job assignments heading into next season.
The Mudcats, who lost their chance for the Southern League's first-half North Division title when they lost on the road to the Smokies on the final day of the half, are guaranteed a losing record in the second half and likely just a few days away from elimination from the race.
They do have that spoiler thing going, and probably wouldn't mind throwing a monkey wrench into the Smokies' playoff hopes. That doesn't happen as Tennessee wins 3-2, taking a one-run victory for the second straight day.
Today is warm and cloudy, but with no threat of rain.
Umpires and managers are wearing light blue - some would say Carolina blue - sweatbands to promote awareness of prostate cancer.
And the Carolina Hurricanes' "Storm Squad" is in the house.
Let's consume mass quantities of chicken tenders and play ball.
The Smokies get their first run off Tom Cochran with a two-out rally in the third. Starlin Castro hits a double to right, followed by Blake Lalli's RBI single to left.
Tennessee's Jeremy Papelbon (pictured) allows just one baserunner until there are two out in the fifth, when Justin Tordi breaks up the no-hitter with a double to left center.
USLLIVE.com-After an anemic 0-0 draw before a crowd of 7,758 in Rochester's Marina Auto Stadium, the RailHawks are now six points behind Portland, with six games to play for each team.
The 'Hawks aren't going to catch the Timbers: Four of Portland's last five games are at home, and four of Portland's last five games are against Cleveland and Austin, the twin doormats of the USL-1. The RailHawks have already earned 16 of the 18 possible points from the City Stars and the Aztex; Portland's pace at the top of the table is all the more remarkable given that they've held these four fixtures in hand all season.
Meanwhile, the RailHawks' last six games will be a grueling stretch against three different playoff contenders, including three against the Montreal Impact—two of which will be on the road.
Last night in Rochester, Martin Rennie showed a lineup that was unusual in two respects:
Nice to see the Bulls get off to a resoundingly positive start on a crucial seven-game road trip to Syracuse and Norfolk, the two teams trailing them in the International League wild-card race. That isn't to say that the South Division title is out of reach---the Bulls trail Gwinnett by three games with 16 left to play---but if they concentrate on putting some distance between themselves and their pursuers, they'll have plenty of momentum coming into their four-game showdown with the Braves at the DBAP when they return (buy your tickets now!).
Desmond Jennings (pictured) was one hit short of the cycle for the second time in his last three starts, this time substituting a homer for the triple, and the Bulls took a quick 5-0 lead after three innings, extended it to 7-0 after five, and rode out a 9-2 win at Syracuse. Every Bull in the starting lineup had at least one hit, including Shawn Riggans, whose fifth-inning double snapped an 0/18 spell since his return from the disabled list. Jason Cromer pitched well enough, if inefficiently, and earned his sixth win. Calvin Medlock, Joe Nelson and Winston Abreu finished up. Nelson allowed singles to the first two men he faced, so his BA-against and OBP-against are still very scary, but perhaps we're seeing a gradual return to good form for him.
A very good thing has happened to the Chiefs' Mike Morse: he was recalled to Washington a few days ago. That's also very good thing for the Bulls, because Morse pounded Durham pitching when the Chiefs came to town earlier this month: he went 6/14 with two homers, a double, three walks and seven RBIs. Syracuse did, however, regain the services of 6-foot-5, 290-pound (!) righty slugger Brad Eldred. Eldred went hitless in five trips to the plate last night, with a walk and a strikeout. The Chiefs pulled a Durham, going 2/12 with RISP and stranding 12 men on base---a little balancing of the Bulls' recent ledger.
Chris Richard sat out a third straight game with what Charlie Montoyo told us was a wrist problem. With Elliot Johnson on the disabled list---he's eligible to come off Sunday, although there's no word if he will---Richard's absence means that Joe Dillon is the everyday first baseman and Ray Olmedo is inked in at third. Olmedo has now played nine straight games, which is many more than any Bull should be logging right now. He's 8/35 in that stretch. All eight of his hits have been singles (one of them a bunt), he's drawn only one walk, and he has hit into three double plays. He has also committed four errors. It's one of those oddities of minor-league baseball that a guy with a .614 OPS, who leads the team in errors, and who walks about once every 20 times at bat, can wind up with the third-most games played on the roster. The Olmedos of the world tend to be utility players because they aren't good enough to hold down a position. Their utility makes them, unfortunately, indispensable; they're the duct tape of ballclubs, which tend to want for nails (the good hardware is used for major-league jobs). And I think I've hammered that point into the floor (ha ha ha, sorry).
Wade Davis, coming off a superb outing in which he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, is on the mound for the Bulls on Sunday. On August 8 at the DBAP, he came within a batter of blanking Syracuse for seven innings. Gametime is 5:00 p.m.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats return home for the opener of a five-game series against the Tennessee Smokies that will comprise the entire homestand.
It's bordering on time for the end-of-season "death watch" for the Mudcats, as their tragic number for elimination from playoff contention is down to seven with 15 games left in the season. Carolina would just about have to run the table and get help from at least three teams.
The Cincinnati Reds' organization is acutely aware of the situation, so any Mudcat who deserves promotion to Triple-A is headed for Louisville to help the Bats try to win a Governors' Cup. Todd Frazier (pictured) is the latest to make the jump, making the number 11 of current Bats players I have covered as a home beat writer at some point.
The Bats really may have about 1/3 of this season's Southern League post-season all-star team on their roster, since they already had SL home-run leader Juan Francisco, the SL's best pitcher in Travis Wood and perhaps the SL's best player in Chris Heisey in the clubhouse. If you think I don't want Louisville to visit Durham in the playoffs this season, try again.
Anyway, it's dark and rainy all the way over here from Brier Creek, but the game starts a reasonable 23 minutes late.
Grab an Italian sausage and let's go.
Tennessee, which eventually wins this one 5-4, takes the early lead with a two-run second inning off Luis Montano. Tyler Colvin leads off with a double to left, moving to third on Ty Wright's sacrifice bunt to third. Tony Thomas scores Colvin on a two-out double off the wall in left, followed by pitcher Chris Carpenter's RBI double to right.
Carolina goes ahead with a three-run rally in the fourth.
Jose Castro leads off with a single to left, and after a Shaun Cumberland single to left and a walk to Zack Cozart the bases are literally full of "Cs." With one out, Logan Parker hits a two-run single to right, and then Carson Kainer puts the home team ahead with another single to right.
Tennessee takes the lead again with a two-out rally in the sixth. Wright doubles to left, followed by Welington Castillo's RBI single to left. Thomas then smacks an RBI single to left.
The Mudcats tie it in the bottom, as Cozart walks, steals second, advances on Alex Maestri's wild pitch and scores on Kainer's one-out sac fly to center.
But Tennessee takes the lead again in the seventh, as Jim Adduci reaches on a fielder's choice following Jonathan Mota's single, followed by Starlin Castro's RBI double to right for the game-winning run.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "Montano was good. In several of his outings he's struggled for the first couple of innings and then settled down and gotten the job done. It was a good game, but we just didn't win. There should always be enough motivation to go out and try to win every game, no matter what the standings say."
Parker: "When you're in this position (in the standings), you just have to forget about how the team's doing and motivate yourself every day. We had a great team in the first half and didn't make the playoffs because we lost the last series to Tennessee. That's something we need to be thinking about when we play them."
Cozart: "It's always important to finish the season strong, even if the team hasn't been winning. And if you go out and play a good game yourself, that's going to give the team a better chance to win."
What does it all mean?
That the tragic number is now five, while Tennessee is a game behind West Tenn for the division lead.
Stars of the game
1. Thomas, with three hits including a double for two RBI.
2. Parker, for two hits and two RBI.
3. Carpenter, for a respectable start and a clutch hit.
Play of the game
Starlin Castro's game-winning double.
Tennessee leads 15-11.
Carolina: Lost 2.
Tennessee: Won 1.
Carolina: Outfielder Todd Frazier promoted to Louisville. Infielder Kristopher Negron promoted to Carolina from Sarasota.
Tennessee at Carolina, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Jeremy Papelbon (L, 4-5, 3.26) vs. Tom Cochran (L, 4-5, 3.29)