It's 4-3, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, bottom of the 10th inning. Brandon Guyer is at the plate. The Bulls have a run in, cutting the deficit from 4-2 to 4-3, on an RBI single by Leslie Anderson, plating J. J. Furmaniak, who drew a one-out walk, advanced to second on a single by Omar Luna, and reached third on a fielder's choice groundout by Ray Olmedo—after Olmedo, like Guyer, took too big a hack with his first swing.
Olmedo is now the tying run on second base following Anderson's single to center. This 2-1 count is good for Guyer, who can now expect fastballs from Yankees' reliever Eric Wordekemper.
He gets one. It's 93 mph and it looks like it's outside—the best thing to do (if you insist on swinging at it) is serve it into right field for what might end up as a game-tying single. But Guyer takes another huge swing, and misses again. Two balls, two strikes.
The next pitch is also a fastball, also 93 mph, and it's high. Guyer swings for a third time, hugely—his third home-run hack of the at-bat—and misses for a third time. Game over. Yankees win, 4-3. The Bulls finish the homestand 4-4—they are 14-14 in their last 28 home games, going back to May 9—and see their division lead over Gwinnett shrink to just a single game.
Later, Guyer confesses that "I was over-aggressive." He was trying to hit a three-run homer, he acknowledges, when all he needed was a base hit to tie the game, or perhaps a double to the gap to score Anderson behind Olmedo and win it. He admits he was too pumped up by the situation: Bulls rallying, fans into it, Wordekemper showing signs of cracking.
Guyer is still sweating, 20 minutes after his last swing ended it. His well-cut mohawk suggests some still-bristling manifestation of the intensity of his final at-bat. He's got big, clear eyes that look like they're taking in life, in huge drams, every waking minute.
Guyer used to play football, a sport whose mentality is pretty much always that of the home-run swing: run to daylight; hit the hole; lay the guy out. Sometimes it's hard to let go of that attitude, to wait for your pitch and poke your opposite-field single. Leslie Anderson did it in his at-bat. Guyer didn't in his. So be it. He'll get more chances.
That's what the minor leagues offer: chances. At critical junctions last night, players got theirs—chances, in some cases, that they would never get in the major leagues—and how they handled those chances determined who won.
But who won is not really important, most of the time—it makes a certain kind of sense that, with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's win last night, these two teams are just percentage points apart, with essentially identical records: it's easy to imagine them splitting every series they might play.
No, the thrill of prospecting, which is what minor-league afición amounts to, ultimately rests not on results—whether your team wins or loses—but in effort, growth, process. That's why I often preach non-attachment when it comes to rooting for the team: non-attachment to winning (which is secondary to learning); to players (who come and go); to Governors' Cup trophies and the reason the Bulls have been so good at competing for them in recent years—that is, non-attachment to the Tampa Bay Rays, who provide the rich source of talent that makes the Bulls' sustained excellence possible. The Rays are, after all, a latecomer to the Bulls' long history; someday they, too, will be gone. And the Process will continue.
DBAP/DURHAM The Durham Bulls aren’t going to win their home series with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, but they still have a chance for a split with wins in the final two games.
So far the Yankees have come with dominant pitching, as the Bulls have scored four runs in the two games and all have come off homers.
Today the Bulls will go with Lance Cormier (0-1, 1.86) against Japanese southpaw Kei Igama (0-0, 0.84).
The starters battle and the score is tied after six, but the Bulls take advantage of the mound woes of former N.C. State star Andrew Brackman in a six-run seventh and coast to an 11-3 win.
Scranton/Wilkes Barre opened their four-game series on Friday night with a 14-3 victory. At least the Bulls played errorless baseball. And that type of thing has been an aberration, as Charlie Montoyo’s club still occupies its usual first-place spot in the International League’s South Division.
Chris Bootcheck (3-1, 3.43) has been one of the Bulls’ steadier pitchers of late and will make the start. And his opponent is a familiar face in the Triangle, as UNC alumnus Adam Warren (6-2, 3.07) will make the start for the Yankees.
The fans are treated to an outstanding pitchers’ duel, and three home runs provide all the scoring as the Yankees win 2-1.
The Yankees hammered Brian Baker, pitching in place of flu-beset Alex Cobb (who said after the game that he feels much better and expects to start on Monday), for three runs on four extra-base hits in the second inning, highlighted by Brandon Laird's long home run way, way over Ye Olde Snorting Bull atop the Blue Monster. Baker retired to the first two hitters of the third inning, but then allowed consecutive singles to Terry Tiffee (just picked up two days ago by the Yankees out of independent-league ball; Tiffee was a teammate of former Bull Alvin Colina's with the Lancaster Barnstormers) and Laird. Baker had both of those hitters in 1-2 holes. One of the pitches to Laird was wild, getting past catcher Robinson Chirinos and moving Tiffee to second; he scored on Laird's single.
And then it was as if Baker decided that throwing strikes was doing him no good, because seven of the first 15 Yankees had had hits, almost all of them off of his modest fastball, which he couldn't locate properly. Baker walked the next three Yankees, forcing in a run, and then Austin Krum dropped a single into right field to score two more. It was 7-0, visitors. "I Wanna Be Sedated" could just as well have started up right then; if not that, the 7-0 skunk rule might have been invoked. We used to do it in ping-pong, which was apropos last night, since our necks kept whiplashing around as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre peppered line drives all over the park.
Or how about a good old-fashioned cry of "Mercy"?
Ryan Reid and Rob Delaney made it academic in the Yankees' five-run sixth, when seven straight men had hits. The only remaining suspense was whether second baseman Omar Luna would pitch. He did, notching a scoreless ninth inning. Unfortunately, we had to sit there all night long in order to see it.
The thing is, if I'm going to babble on a regular basis about how wonderful it is that baseball is impervious to the iron laws of time, has its own special rhythm, and shamalalala, then I have to swallow the pill that goes with all that sugar, e.g. last night's punishing game and others like it, when the outcome is pretty much
sedated settled by the third inning yet the thing will stagger on for six more, like a drunk who won't just get it over with and pass out.
There are threadbare old baseball adages that apply here—a loss is just one loss no matter the score, it's-a-marathon-not-a-sprint, get 'em tomorrow, etc.—and I'm sure at least one of them was uttered somewhere in the building afterward. But the thing to take away from this game, and what it possibly forebodes, is that some of these just-losses are going to be almost inevitable, a priori, unless changes are made. Some thoughts about that, and those unavoidable Yankees, and mercifully little about the miseries of the game, follow.
The answer was yes. Torres, who is from Venezuela, has an accent, but it isn't prohibitive; sometimes he misunderstands our questions and we have to repeat them, but he's in fact a very well-spoken and earnest young man. He just wants to feel sure of himself when he's being interviewed.
I spent part of last night's game, a 4-1 Bulls win, sitting next to a scout. Scouts are basically barred from talking to opposing teams' players, because it's considered tampering, and the scout told me that he infers ballplayers' characters from watching the way they play the game.
A tough assignment, and perhaps too prone to the pathetic fallacy, but good scouts pull it off. Brandon Guyer plays hard, all the time; he went all-out for a foul ball down the right-field line last night and would probably have wound up in the hospital had he not convinced himself, at full gallop, not to dive—he would have plowed face-first into a wall. Guyer's all-out style, though, is unflashy—he plays All-Star caliber baseball (he's on my ballot) almost without anyone noticing it. (He made a good play in the field last night, walked twice, doubled, and just missed a homer in the first inning, when he flied out after getting under a pitch by a micrometer or two.) Not surprisingly, Guyer's clubhouse presence is quiet but strong, and although he's soft-spoken he answers questions comfortably and responsively; he's got a sense of humor, too.
Ray Olmedo is the diametric opposite: he jitterbugs and sashays out there, likes those behind-the-back flips to second when starting a double play, taps the ump's shin guard with his bat when he comes to the plate to hit—no surprise that he likes to rub Ken Tanner's belly during post-game "Star of the Game" interviews on the field (he translated for Leslie Anderson last night) and mock-heckle Dan Johnson when we ask Johnson about his homers. Jeremy Hellickson was monkishly affectless, on the field and off; Wade Davis stone-cold and unblinking on the mound, and supplemented his granitic presence with a dry monotone when he spoke to the media. Virgil Vasquez used to look like he was grimacing a third of the time, no matter where you saw him.
Had you watched Torres's previous starts this year, and judged his character from those, you might have been skeptical. He worked slowly, wandering around off the mound often. He would walk hitters and look frustrated, as though he had some ongoing disagreement with his command—as though it was letting him down of its own accord and he had no power to harness it—and then would walk more hitters. You might have guessed that he was an uptight, restless guy, yet one with an untidy apartment, dishes in the sink, unpaid bills, a balky car. You might have imagined him waiting around for something good to happen, and being disappointed when it never did.
And then you would have seen him last night, and you would have to re-evaluate Alexander Torres.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Sometimes one of the best things in life is a second chance, and the Carolina Mudcats get one starting tonight.
But the second half begins tonight with the opener of a five-game home series with the Huntsville Stars.
Huntsville was the Mudcats’ worst tormentor in the first half, winning all five games in the series in Alabama.
Tonight will mark the Mudcats debut of catcher Yasmani Grandal, the first-round pick out of Miami last year who spent the first half of this season at Bakersfield. Grandal, a member of Team USA’s World Baseball Challenge champions in 2009, hit .296 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in 56 games in the California League. Chris Coddington was sent down to Bakersfield.
And joining the club from Louisville is former Mudcat closer Chris Mobley, while Jason Braun goes to the temporarily inactive list.
Ace Matt Klinker (3-4, 3.60) will start the game for Carolina, while Michael Fiers (3-2, 3.27) goes for the visitors.
This half will start on the right foot, as the Mudcats score the first three runs and hang on for a 3-2 victory.
So when Montoyo looked composed and calm after the blowout loss, saying that his team would start hitting again soon, you had to trust his confidence. And you had to keep trusting it deep into Wednesday afternoon's game. The Bulls built a slim lead heading into the eighth inning, when they led 4-3. But they had stranded five runners in scoring position, three of them on third base with one out. All signs pointed to one of those depressing games in which a thoroughgoing failure to capitalize early would lead to a late loss.
Cut to the bottom of the eighth inning. Up 4-3, Robinson Chirinos walks on four pitches from Buffalo reliever Justin Hampton. J. J. Furmaniak places a sacrifice bunt so perfectly that it allows him to reach first base with a single.
Omar Luna comes up and receives the signal to lay down another sacrifice bunt. Instead, he decides he is too good a hitter for that; he explains to Montoyo, later, that he aimed to punch a hit past the charging infielders and knock in a run or two. This attempt fails, of course, but Luna chops the ball to a spot where the Bisons' third baseman, Zach Lutz, can only throw him out at first base. Chirinos and Furmaniak advance—so it's as if Luna sacrificed. One away, runners on second and third.
Desmond Jennings is intentionally walked. It's the right move. Buffalo manager Tim Teufel calls on—yep, him again—Dale Thayer to relieve Hampton and deal with Ray Olmedo. He gets ahead of Olmedo, 0-2, but Olmedo grounds Thayer's third pitch through the first-base hole for an RBI single. 5-3. Brandon Guyer follows with a chopper to third base, an RBI groundout. 6-3.
The game's over, and Dan Johnson guarantees it. Thayer falls behind him, 2-1, at one point throwing one of the four or five changeups he generally throws during the course of a given season—and Johnson swings over it. The fourth pitch is a fastball, up and out over the plate—Desmond Jennings later tells Johnson that it wasn't even a strike, too high—and Johnson, who took Thayer to the left-field wall for an out on Monday night, hits an opposite-field, three-run homer over the easternmost part of the Blue Monster. It's a legit shot, and it's 9-3, and that's the final score.
Charlotte Smith isn’t an assistant coach with the UNC women’s basketball program any more.
Elon director of athletics Dave Blank announced at a Wednesday press conference that Smith will be the Phoenix’ new head coach, replacing Karen Barefoot who is the new head coach at Old Dominion.
Smith served nine seasons under Sylvia Hatchell, helping direct the Tar Heels to four ACC titles and appearances in the NCAA Final Four in 2006 and ’07.
The 1995 national player of the year, Smith hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the 60-59 victory over Louisiana Tech in the NCAA championship game in 1994. The 6-footer, who dunked in a 1994 game against North Carolina A&T, is one of two Tar Heel women’s players to have her jersey retired.
The smoke, which gave the locals headaches and caused much involuntary clearing of throats, actually drifted over from elsewhere: a long-burning, lightning-ignited wildfire in Dare County, on the North Carolina coast a few hours east of Durham.
Dare County encompasses part of the state's precious Outer Banks, as well as resorts like Duck and Nags Head. It also contains some precious history, even in its very name: Dare County is named for Virginia Dare, the first known child born in what is now the USA to English parents. The Dares were part of the famous "Lost Colony" of Roanoke Island, a 1580s settlement that disappeared, more or less without a trace—but without signs of violence—20 years before the Jamestown colony persevered after making landfall, 20 years later.
Dare County also happens to be home to a small town named Kitty Hawk, N.C. You probably know what happened there.
So you get the idea. Pioneers. Risk takers. Explorers. Prodigies and progeny. The New World, on land and in the air. Daredevils. (Kill Devil Hills is the apt name of a town near Kitty Hawk.)
And yesterday was the first official day of summer: more of that sense of being first, of optimum light, of frolicking and play—like the Bulls, tops in their division, where they've finished four straight seasons.
And you know what the Bulls did on this auspicious summer day, under the propitious Dare County smoke? They played one of their worst games of the year and lost 9-1 to the Buffalo Bisons.
So thanks for last night's game, a 2-1 Durham Bulls win over the Buffalo Bisons, which basically came down to one at-bat. In the top of the seventh inning, the Bulls were clinging to their 2-1 lead, provided by Desmond Jennings's opposite-field, third-inning two-run homer. Bulls' starter Chris Bootcheck had largely cruised to that point, touched only by a very, very long homer by Zach Lutz in the sixth.
The first two Bisons to hit in the seventh hit groundball singles, the first of them one that a better second baseman than Felipe Lopez might have turned into a groundout. The runners advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt, but Bootcheck struck out an overmatched Mike Nickeas for the second out.
With Dane De La Rosa ready in the bullpen, Bulls pitching coach Neil Allen trotted out to the mound. Was Bootcheck going to be permitted to get that last out? A longish meeting ensued—note that Allen gets to the mound much faster than his pitching coach predecessor, Xavier Hernandez, who loped out there so slowly that the ump would come out to break it up almost the instant Hernandez arrived to commence his conference.
Bootcheck stayed in. (Manager Charlie Montoyo joked later that the only reason he didn't lift Bootcheck was that "my players were holding me back.") His first pitch was a strike, and so was his second—a cutter that actually hung a bit. But Bubba Bell didn't take full advantage. He hit the ball decently, but not decently enough, his opposite-field looper to left providing a rather easy chance for Leslie Anderson, who caught it well shy of the Blue Monster. Inning over.
And, basically, game over. Buffalo had two-out singles in both the eighth and the ninth innings, but in both cases the next batter was retired. The Bulls, who looked like they might be falling toward serious trouble just a few days ago, won their fourth game in the last five tries and held onto their two-game lead over Gwinnett, where they just took three of four games to reclaim the division lead they briefly lost to the Braves. The 39-31 Bulls are eight games over .500, matching a season high, and they have three more games at home against the lowly Buffalo Bisons before the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees roll into town.
No surprise that Charlie Montoyo appeared to be a much happier man than the one we talked to just last week.