It wasn’t a good night for the Triangle’s two minor-league baseball teams.
The Durham Bulls did have one positive about their 4-0 loss to the Buffalo Bisons in which they got just one hit, as Heath Phillips tossed the team’s first complete game of the season.
But for the Carolina Mudcats the news was all bad, as they lost their 11th straight game in a 5-0 decision to the Mobile Bay Bears with ace Matt Klinker suffering the loss. The Mudcats are one short of the club’s consecutive-loss record set in 1992.
The Bulls play the finale of their Buffalo series on Friday night, while the Mudcats will play the second of their five-game set at Mobile.
The Durham Bulls used another solid outing from ace Jeremy Hellickson and some hot bats, beating the host Buffalo Bisons 9-2 Wednesday to even their series at one win apiece.
The Bulls have the best record in the International League at 15-6.
Meanwhile the Carolina Mudcats’ woes continued, as they lost their 10th straight game in a 3-1 road loss to the Jacksonville Suns. It is the second longest losing streak in Mudcats history.
The Bulls play their third of four games at Buffalo tonight, while Carolina visits the Mobile Bay Bears for the opener of their five-game series.
Durham got homers from Chris Richard, Angel Chavez and Rashad Eldridge to get the easy victory.
Hellickson improved to 4-0 while Toby Stoner (0-3) took the loss.
Justin Ruggiano went 3-for-4 with a double and and scored three runs for the Bulls as he stretched his hitting streak to 14 games. Hank Blalock and Dan Johnson each doubled and singles for three RBI.
Chris Carter led Buffalo with a double, a single and an RBI.
Tuesday was a rough night for the Triangle’s two pro baseball teams, with the Carolina Mudcats getting the worst of it.
Carolina will play the finale of its current series with Jacksonville today, while the Bulls will take on the Bisons in the second game of the series.
DBAP/DURHAM—This morning I finished my breakfast and went straight to the DBAP. It's pretty disorienting to be still digesting your oatmeal at game time, when you're still groggy from the previous night's lucubrations. I had wagered that none of the ballplayers would admit to hating an 11:00 AM first pitch, even though that's when they're usually waking up, because they generally try to show reporters their chipper game-faces whenever possible; but Bulls' designated hitter Dan Johnson was having nothing to do with the party line. How did did he like playing ball right after Showcase Showdown? "Not at all," he said.
(Is TPIR still on the air? I don't have a TV. Until yesterday, I thought that the musical Wicked, currently playing right behind the DBAP at the DPAC, was an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury novel.)
He must not hate it that much; or perhaps it just took him a while to wake up. Johnson hit his league-leading eighth home run in the eighth inning. The two-run shot, an opposite-field job that barely cleared the Blue Monster (Johnson's getting good at parking them on the concourse up there), closed the Gwinnett Braves' margin over Durham to just a single run; but Gwinnett's 21-year-old closer, Craig Kimbrel, made sure that was where it stayed, and the Braves earned a series split with the Bulls, winning 4-3.
Johnson was refreshingly candid throughout his postgame interview, a pleasant change of pace from the usual game of connect-the-cliches most athletes play—but more on that later. The Bulls fell behind 4-0 by the fourth inning this
afternoon morning. Emergency starter Heath Rollins had a sluggish four-inning stint, running into some deep counts and getting victimized for a two-run homer by Gwinnett's Freddie Freeman. Freeman had been fairly quiet for most of the series, and he was bound to break through; Rollins' 86-mph fastball was just the ticket. The Bulls got a run back in the fifth inning, and when Johnson's eighth-inning homer cleared the wall, it was a surprise to see that they were suddenly within a run of the Braves, 4-3—they had seemed well out of it for most of the game—and that they had collected 10 hits. Joe Dillon followed Johnson's homer with a single, but Chris Richard, who had already hit two singles, rapped into a 3-6-3 double play, and then Kimbrel retired four straight Bulls to close it out. (Montoyo was quick to praise Kimbrel and Braves' reliever Mike Dunn, who combined to keep the Bulls scoreless in their 3 2/3 combined innings.) The Braves ended a 12-game road trip 6-6.
The Bulls, meanwhile, stranded nine men on base, all nine through the first six innings; Braves pitchers recorded only two 1-2-3 frames. Other than Johnson's homer, the rest of the Bulls 11 hits were singles, and as Johnson pointed out, you've got to string more hits together when they aren't extra-base knocks. The Bulls also grounded into three double plays. It seems right now that this team lives and dies by the long ball, and there is frankly nothing at all wrong with that. Yes, the Bulls split this series with Gwinnett, but the team is playing almost .750 ball overall. "It's kinda weird losing a game," Johnson said. Well, his team isn't really used to it. They head up to chilly Buffalo and Rochester for eight games, and then come home to host the Jon Weber-led Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on May 6. (There is a memorial "Weber" name plate above one of the lockers in the Bulls' clubhouse.) Guess what time that game starts? 11:00 AM.
Some terribly important notes follow:
Mike Stanton continued his rampage against the Carolina Mudcats, extending their misery for another day.
Jacksonville was up 11-0 before the Mudcats broke up the shutout on an eighth-inning single from Yonder Alonso, who finished with two hits. Michael Griffin added an RBI double in the ninth.
CARY — Carolina RailHawks brass surely will be happy to see the attendance figures more than doubled this week, with 3,687 paying customers coming out to WakeMed Soccer Park for the Sunday night friendly against the Mexican Olympic team.
Unfortunately for them, most of the spectators were supporting the opposition. Even Swoops, the team mascot, dubbed the “most famous in professional sports” by announcer
Dean Linke Mark Calaway, was roundly booed.
“It’s always fun to play with fans who are cheering all game long,” said RailHawks striker Andriy Budnyy, who scored the team’s lone goal in the 1-1 draw. “I wish those fans were rooting for us though. Hopefully our fans will come during the season and help us create the same atmosphere.”
For the most part, it was a treat for the ears more than the eyes. As drums were banged, officials were heckled and fans traded multilingual barbs, the teams mainly played landlocked football, both sitting back and waiting to strike on the counterattack. That becomes difficult when neither mounts an attack from which to counter.
The result was a strained, chippy affair that saw the home team score twice, albeit once in its own net when captain Mark Schulte scuffed a 53rd minute clearance off his shin and over goalkeeper Nic Platter’s helpless hands.
“It’s a fluke thing,” Platter said. “It just happens.”
Each team struggled to create scoring chances, and fittingly Budnyy tallied his goal from a free kick seconds before the halftime whistle.
After, as he said, “I got fouled and the ref finally called it,” the Ukraine Train struck a low liner from 20 yards out, beating the wall and Mexican keeper Alejandro Dautt.
“I was eventually going to try to chip it over the wall but midfielder Matt Watson made a good run and it took away the last defender in the wall, and so it opened up the opposite corner,” he said. “It was wide open, and I was counting on the keeper trying to get across and getting caught halfway and that’s what happened.”
Triangle Offense's RailHawks' player ratings for Sunday night's draw against the Mexican Olympic National team. Let us know your thoughts...
GK Nic Platter - 8: Two saves and several swatted away threats gave him RailHawks’ Man of the Match; only an own goal denied him a clean sheet
D Mark Schulte - 5: His failed clearance, deflected into his own goal, gave Mexico its only point; fitness is clearly still an issue for the RailHawks’ captain
D Matt Bobo - 7: Repelled repeated Mexican attacks during the first half; during his 45 minutes on the pitch, Mexico only mustered two shots on goal
D Greg Shields - 7: Played the full 90 and did yeoman’s work contending with much quicker opposition
D John Gilkerson - 6: A hot-and-cold first half at left back preceded a frustrating second when he moved to central defense and Mexico enjoyed 11 shots on goal
M Floyd Franks - 8: Franks’ first outing since the preseason was promising; combined good touch with a couple of shots; foul-happiness should diminish with more match fitness
Speaking of familiar, how about Justin Ruggiano vis a vis Braves' starter Todd Redmond? The Roodge had a pair of homers off Redmond in the same game last May 9, and added a couple of doubles off the Braves' pitcher in two other games against him. So it was no surprise at all last night when Ruggiano launched a high third-inning pop fly into the blowing-hard-to-left wind, and the current carried the ball over the Blue Monster and onto the concourse for a home run. (A hawk visited the airspace over the DBAP in the third inning and then again in the sixth or seventh; it just floated on the jetstream, exampling the wind's force and vector; all you had to do was hit one as the hawk flies and you had a chance for extra bases.)
Sometimes you just see a certain pitcher well. It has to be said, in the ongoing case of Justin Ruggiano v. Todd Redmond (and His Own Past), that he had manufactured another Roodge ca. 2010 at-bat in his first appearance versus Redmond. He fell behind 1-2, fouled off an assortment of curveballs and fastballs, and then grounded out to second base on Redmond's ninth pitch. The result may not have been ideal, but it a) moved the runners over and b) was another convincing piece of evidence in Ruggiano's appeal to the high baseball court. The windblown homer two innings later—on the first pitch he saw from Redmond—was a sort of affirmation of Ruggiano's new approach at the plate. He has changed his walk-up music to a mellow reggae-ish groove called "The Struggla," which is indicative of his newfound respect for the labor and placidity and rhythm necessary to good hitting. Last year it was (and in late innings still is) the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage."
What the 2009 season proved was that Ruggiano was his own saboteur, getting in his head or maintaining a blind spot on pitches low and away. But the pleasant irony of 2010 so far is that Ruggiano is neither the Saboteur nor the Struggla. The homer extended his hitting streak to 11 games, and it extended the Bulls' lead to 5-0. Joe Dillon followed one out later with another homer to left—the line drive needed no help from the wind, hit the Bull and won him a steak from the Tobacco Cafe, or whatever the skyward thing behind the concourse is called; it hasn't opened yet, so I can only assume that they're dry-aging Dillon's reward-to-be in anticipation of his (and their) arrival.
Those two third-inning taters by Ruggiano and Dillon confirmed the argument that the Bulls made in the first inning off of Redmond, when they tagged him for four runs, the key hit a two-run homer by Chris Richard, who went down and castigated a lame curveball. This game was effectively over before it really began. Ways in which the Bulls aren't kidding around after the jump.
The Carolina Mudcats’ woes continue.
Jacksonville outhit the Mudcats 10-7, but had six extra-base hits to two for Carolina.
Chris Denove’s first homer of the season and Denis Phipps’ double produced the Mudcats’ runs.
Tom Koehler (3-0) had a quality start and picked up the win, while Dallas Buck (1-2) took the loss.
Getting away from home for their first of a 10-game road trip didn’t help the Carolina Mudcats a bit on Saturday night at the Baseball Grounds.
Matt Dominguez added an RBI triple in the four-run inning that turned the close game into an easy win for the hosts.
Matt Klinker (1-2) had a solid start for Carolina, allowing one earned run while striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings.
Elih Villanueva (1-1) pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Suns, striking out seven and walking two.
Michael Griffin had three hits including a double for Carolina.