Edmonton (7-6-4) faded badly in the heat, and the RailHawks (13-2-2) turned the game into a 4-1 rout on three second-half goals. The win showed the RailHawks recapturing their form after a sluggish road trip earlier this month. Not coincidentally, the disappointing results away to Edmonton and NSC Minnesota immediately followed the departure of defender and team captain Brad Rusin for Denmark’s HB Køge.
But the RailHawks’ return to form last night also coincides with speculation anew about the future prospects for strike partners Pablo Campos and Etienne Barbara, as well as head coach Martin Rennie.
First, there was an entertainingly scrappy game on the field. Familiarity has certainly bred some contempt between the teams, as evidenced by chippy play, five cautions and repeated outbursts that ran emphatically afoul of the spirit of “Faith and the Family” night.
DBAP/DURHAM The Durham Bulls play their first game of the post-Desmond Jennings area tonight against the Toledo Mud Hens, with their three-game winning streak and first-place spot in the International League’s South Division on the line.
John Matulia (.192, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 9 games) has taken over for Jennings as the leadoff man in center field. Veteran Bulls shortstop and erstwhile crowd favorite Reid Brignac has yet to report, and by rule does not have to appear until the upcoming series with Gwinnett.
Everybody in the Bulls’ lineup contributes in a 9-2 win, giving Durham a one-game lead over second-place Gwinnett.
By then, we media hyenas were already making our silly, slobbering speculations, as if we weren't drooling enough over getting our first look at Matt Moore, the Rays' (and perhaps America's) No. 1 pitching prospect, set to make his Class AAA debut after his promotion from Montgomery, where he threw a no-hitter and was dominating the Southern League.
Leave it to Jennings, who has been the subject of speculation all season long, to upstage Moore's pitching performance, five promising innings of three-hit, one-run ball. In fact, Moore himself upstaged his pitching performance. As he trotted out to the mound to begin the second inning, his cleat got caught in the turf near the first-base line. He began to scamper forward in an attempt to regain his balance while in motion, reached a staggering "run," and finally went into a full-on, arms-out, head-first dive into Scott Strickland's lovingly manicured infield grass. Moore had to wait for his catcher, Nevin Ashley, to stop laughing hysterically before he could start his warmup pitches. The Mud Hens clucked at him from their dugout. Moore proceeded to throw 15 of his next 24 pitches for balls.
After the game, Jennings was called up to Tampa, where he is expected to play left field and hit leadoff. There had been rampant speculation that B. J. Upton, the Rays' center fielder, was going to be traded—he was pulled from the Rays' blowout loss at Kansas City in the eighth inning—but instead, the corresponding roster move took us by surprise, because it didn't involve an outfielder: shortstop Reid Brignac was optioned to Durham.
Plenty more to follow. One note of logistical importance: Sunday's game time has been moved from 5:05 p.m. back to 7:05, due to the continued heat. Ahh, much better. Now read on.
(Disclaimer: while I am not a full-time employee of N.C. Central University, I have been paid by the university to write feature stories for the athletics website — nccueaglepride.com — on a regular basis for the past year.)
WASHINGTON DUKE INN/DURHAM Bill Dooley says this event is the biggest of its kind in the South.
And there’s no reason to doubt the Ol’ Trench Fighter, the legendary former coach at UNC, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech on that one.
Over 300 college football fans were on hand for a fancy lunch, a few jokes and plenty of information about the upcoming season on Thursday, at the Ninth Annual Pigskin Preview by the Bill Dooley Triangle/East Chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
Five Division I coaches — UNC’s Butch Davis, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, N.C. State’s Tom O’Brien, East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill and N.C. Central’s Henry Frazier III — were on hand to swap stories and answers to sometimes off-the-wall questions and generally be loose for one of the last times until fall practice starts in earnest.
The schedule for the 2011 season has made it very hard to keep up with the Bulls. They were on the road for much of April and May, seemed to be home-and-away in choppy fashion for most of June, and will have been mostly in absentia in July. The big homestand, the one where we finally get a long, close look at this team, starts this Friday, July 22. Beginning that night, the Bulls will play 18 of their next 21 games at the DBAP, and then we might start to get to know them. The thing is, the Bulls we'll get to know aren't the ones we were introduced to, however briefly, in the spring.
Detailing the changes after the jump—but first, a late-breaking update to those changes: The Rays have just re-signed Joe Bateman, the sidearming right-handed reliever who put up two very good seasons for the Bulls in 2009 and 2010, and sent him to Durham—actually, he's already in Rochester, N.Y., where he's available to pitch tonight.
Bateman signed with the Oakland A's in the off-season and pitched so poorly for their Class AAA affiliate in Sacramento that he was finally demoted to Double-A Midland (Tex.). After four appearances there, Bateman was released. The Bulls, desperate for pitching because of the recent slew of injuries, callups, etc., were probably delighted to hear that the Rays had brought him back and assigned him to Durham. (Matt Torra, who starts for Durham at Rochester in about an hour, may also have been delighted: both pitchers hail from Pittsfield, Mass.) I'll go out on a limb and speculate that Bateman's veering slider, his best pitch, wasn't breaking enough in the desert air of Sacramento (the Pacific Coast League is a notorious ERA-killer), but I'll let him give me his thoughts when the Bulls return to the DBAP on Friday night.
That's a game you'll want to make sure you see. Keep reading to find out why...
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Checking in again on the Carolina Mudcats, who have had a huge improvement since finishing far and away in last place in the Southern League in the first half.
They’ll come into their second game of the home series with the Jackson Generals — known last season as the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx — on a five-game winning streak and in second place in the SL’s North Division.
So David Bell’s Mudcats, who got a fresh infusion of talent at the break with first-round catcher Yasmani Grandal the centerpiece, are not only fun to watch again but may be ready to make a playoff run.
Pedro Villareal (3-1, 4.50) will go tonight on a fairly mild evening against Generals lefty James Paxton (0-0, 3.86).
The streak ends tonight but not without a fight, as the Mudcats come back from an eight-run deficit to get the tying run to the plate before succumbing 10-7 and dropping two games out of first place.
Guess what? There were two rain delays. Twenty-seven minutes before we even started, 61 minutes in the bottom of the third. I sat and read Orwell.
Orwell was as good as perhaps any writer in history at turning his gaze squarely on those things no one wants to look at (touch, smell), and writing about them—"facing unpleasant facts," in his own phrase. You may only know him from his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, both justly canonized works of fiction, but Orwell was at his best in his nonfiction prose. His essays are unflinching accounts and assessments of the unflinching life he led and observed, as bracing and purifying as ice water.
Well, a 17-2 loss to Norfolk—or to anyone, for that matter—is an unpleasant fact, to be sure. Brian Baker—Oh, Brian! (When he pitches well, you go, Haut Brion! But he hasn't pitched well very often this season.) He was ripped by Norfolk on June 12 for five runs in just three innings, and should have been done last night with the exact same line—three innings, five runs—because the rain arrived in the bottom of the third inning.
But after the hour-long rain delay, Baker came back out to face more unpleasant facts, or at least Josh Bell, to whom he gave up his second homer in as many outings against Norfolk this one a two-run shot out onto the center-field berm in the fourth that made it 7-0 and effectively ended the game.
Yet Baker still wasn't done: he returned to start the fifth inning. After he reached 103 pitches, with one out and a man on first base, Charlie Montoyo removed him.
The unpleasant fact? After the rain delay, trailing 5-0, Baker was going to throw 100 pitches no matter the outcome. Montoyo was not managing this game to win it. He was managing it to get to the next one. Had Alex Cobb or Alex Torres been the starter, there is no way either would have continued to pitch after the rain delay, just as Norfolk starter Chris Tillman, a viable prospect, did not come back apres le deluge. (Tillman's line for the night: two scoreless innings, two hits, three strikeouts, 34 pitches. Tides manager Gary Allenson lamented afterward that Tillman had had his best stuff of the season—a particularly snappish breaking ball, it seemed to me.)
The unpleasant fact behind the unpleasant 103-pitch, seven-run fact is that Baker is not a prospect. He's a 28-year-old functionary whom Charlie Montoyo has the Rays' permission to subject to whatever punishment is necessary in order to drag his team through the 144-game mire of a Triple-A baseball season. Baker is held in some little contempt by the corporation (Tampa Bay Rays, Inc.) for which he works, for paltry pay, for long hours, under often brutal conditions, with no job security.
Baker said earlier this year that he always seems to be the guy who draws the bad-weather card whenever he starts; let the record show that he drew it again last night. In fact, his pregame bullpen session was awkwardly disrupted by the National Anthem, sung lugubriously and out-of-tune—and, more to the point, when no one was really expecting it, with the tarp hurriedly scraped off the field after someone decided that rain wasn't imminent after all. That rush-job forced Baker to the mound before he was perhaps entirely ready. In the top of the first inning, which started 27 minutes late, he got ahead of Tides leadoff man Matt Angle 0-2, walked him with the next four pitches, threw ball one to Ryan Adams, and was then the recipient of a mound visit from his catcher, Robinson Chirinos.
Needless to say, it didn't help. Nothing helped all night. All one could do was face unpleasant facts.
Turned out I didn't need my pick-me-up, though, because the Bulls kept serving them up all night long.
On Wednesday night, the Bulls trailed 3-0 four batters into the game. On Thursday, they trailed 3-0 after three. Durham starter Alex Cobb hit Matt Angle to lead off, with a pitch that came inside and just grazed Angle. Then Cobb walked Ryan Adams on four pitches. He started off Josh Bell with a sixth straight ball out of the strike zone. He then managed a strike, threw another one—it looked like a hanging splitter to me—and Bell blasted it over the left-center field wall for a three-run homer. So okay, then.
It could have gotten worse. After Cobb got Jake Fox to ground out, Brandon Snyder singled to right and Rhyne Hughes followed with a resounding double off the Blue Monster, moving Snyder to third. But Cobb worked out of the jam, getting Brendan Harris to ground out to third, holding the runners, and striking out Nick Green.
The Bulls answered right back. Desmond Jennings led off the bottom of the first with a home run off of Ye Olde Snorting Bull above the Blue Monster, nailing the thing right in the porterhouse and earning himself an assuredly lesser cut from the kitchen of the downtown Marriott. It was Jennings's third leadoff dinger of the season.
That was enough to stem the Tides a little, but the Bulls weren't done. Four batters later, with Brandon Guyer on first base, Russ Canzler lifted a homer of his own over the Blue Monster. That made it 3-3 after one inning, with all three Durham runs scored, fittingly, by the team's three All-Stars.
"I got off to a rough start," Cobb said, despite having had what he called a good pregame bullpen session, "but the team was picking me up left and right tonight. That settled me down a ton."
From left to right, then, or really left to left: In the top of the fourth, Cobb missed with a fastball to Green (a former Bull, but don't get too excited about that: Green, a utility player, appeared in 10 games with Durham in 2006; since then he has played with 12 other minor- and major-league teams). Green blasted a homer onto the farthest section of the tin roof over the Tobacco Road Cafe terrace.
So naturally, Robinson Chirinos hit a solo homer of his own, to almost exactly the same spot, in the bottom of the same inning—it was Chirinos's second fourth-inning solo homer in as many nights. The score was tied again, 4-4, and Cobb had again been picked up by his teammates. He responded by retiring six of his last seven batters faced (one walk) to end his night after six erratic but often strong innings.
One of those omens, those little devil-thoughts that your mind starts entertaining now and then: Tides starter Rick Vandenhurk sat in the dugout for a long time during the top of the seventh inning, while two Bulls pitchers loaded the bases with walks but managed to keep Norfolk from scoring—Jay Buente picked up R. J. Swindle by stranding the two guys Swindle had put on base, plus one of his own. Vandenhurk had thrown only 83 pitches to that point, but after the long top of the inning, one couldn't help thinking that the time was propitious to take him out, especially with Daniel Mayora leading off: back in the fourth inning, Mayora had hit an opposite-field drive that sent Rhyne Hughes to the wall to catch it.
But he came back out for the bottom of the seventh, and sure enough Mayora again went the other way, drilling a liner deep down the right-field line for extra bases. Hughes isn't a great outfielder, had a bit of an adventure running it down, and Mayora dug hard for a triple. The Norfolk infield came in, and it paid off: the next two batters, Chirinos and Ray Olmedo, hit groundouts at them. Mayora was still stuck on third. The Bulls were an out away from wasting their big chance to go ahead.
But J. J. Furmaniak picked hup his club. He got ahead of Vandenhurk, 3-1, and then blooped a single into short right field to score Mayora and make it 5-4. Dane De La Rosa pitched a relatively easy ninth, and the Bulls had their third straight win. Charlotte beat Gwinnett, giving Durham sole possession of first place in the IL South Division.
The Bulls wound up tying the game, 3-3, thanks mostly to Brandon Guyer, who doubled twice and scored both times (he went 4-4 with a walk and a stolen base, and is clearly the Bulls' first-half MVP). Robinson Chirinos added a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth.
By the time Guyer scored his second run, knotting the score in the last of the fifth—precisely when the game became "official"—the sky had grown ominous. This is really nothing new. The Bulls have had about a quarter of their games delayed, postponed or canceled by rain this season.
It began to drizzle in the sixth, around the time when Lance Cormier, on in relief of Torra, gave up a solo home run to former Bull Rhyne Hughes, untying the score at 4-3. A raindance ensued. Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin made a visit to the mound in the last of the sixth; later, manager Gary Allenson made a mid-inning pitching change. Sure, Norfolk starter Chris George was showing signs of tiring, having put two men on base, but in fact George put at least two men on in all but one of the six innings he pitched. You couldn't help but think that these mound visits were at least partially tactical, a way of inviting the rains to come and abort the game early in the Tides' favor.
Reliever Nick Bierbrodt—with a name like that, he ought to be in the Milwaukee organization—quelled the Bulls' threat, and when the Tides extended their lead to 5-3 in the top of the seventh, thanks to a pair of errors by recently mustered third baseman Daniel Mayora, and the rain began to fall harder, it seemed like Allenson might get his wish, without having to sweat over it too much. The sky on both sides of the ballpark looked apocalyptic: purple-gray, roiling, malevolent.
But to go back to that beer-brat thing: You know how, when you put a sausage in the pan without piercing it, its own mounting pressure makes it explode? Well, in the last of the seventh, the left-hander Bierbrodt walked Desmond Jennings. Then he walked Mayora on four pitches. That was, basically, the sausage filling its own casing with pressure. Guyer singled in a run to make it 5-4, Norfolk. Dan Johnson popped out, but Bierbrodt fell behind Felipe Lopez 2-0, and it was then decided to walk Lopez intentionally, loading the bases.
Allenson made another pitching change, bringing in right-hander Jeremy Accardo to face the right-hander Russ Canzler—and Accardo walked Canzler on four pitches to force in a run and tie the score, 5-5.
And then the storm, which just minutes earlier had appeared imminent, mysteriously left us.
And then, depending on how you want to define the term, the Bulls either quit sandbagging or started to: they scored six straight runs over the next 1 1/3 innings to win, 11-5. Durham bashed out 17 hits, seven in its last two at-bats. The Bulls remain tied with the Gwinnett Braves atop the IL South Division.
Duke's Marcus Stroman shut the door for Team USA once again, picking up his second save in three games in a 4-3 win over Japan on Tuesday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The victory was the USA’s third in as many games and the clincher in the 38th annual best-of-5 Collegiate Friendship Series, setting off a lengthy celebration between the players and the full house on hand to see the city’s rain-postponed Independence Day fireworks show.
The teams had been scheduled to play Monday night, but when that game was postponed by heavy rains a day-night doubleheader was set for Tuesday.
The USA had won the early game in Cary 8-2.