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Monday, April 30, 2012

Matt Torra, Durham Bulls shut out Indianapolis Indians, snap club-record 13-game losing streak

Posted by on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 6:48 PM

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DBAP/ DURHAM—Durham Bulls outfielder Jesus Feliciano caught the final out of Matt Torra and Cesar Ramos' combined two-hit, 1-0 shutout of the Indianapolis Indians this afternoon. It was a fairly well-hit drive to center field by the dangerous Jeff Clement. Feliciano's catch came just a few minutes after he himself drove in the only run of the game with a double to right field that barely eluded the diving Brandon Boggs on the warning track. After the catch in center field ended the game, infielders Reid Brignac and Shawn O'Malley didn't high-five or shake hands. They hugged.

Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said that of course "it had to be like that: a one-nothing game with their best hitter at the plate. Man on first, deep fly ball to center, and the guy who got the big hit [caught] the out." And then there was a pause as Montoyo let out a brief but soulful sigh, the exhalation of two weeks of frustration, failure and, probably, freaking out.

A few minutes after that, Bulls General Manager Mike Birling came into the manager's office, which he seldom does—wearing a suit, which is even rarer—and shook Montoyo's hand. It was like they'd just birthed a baby after a difficult, overdue pregnancy—and come to think of it, it did seem like about nine months had passed since the Bulls had borne Durham a win. (For his part, O'Malley, sporting a perhaps slumpbusting mohawk, estimated the subjective length of the losing streak at two months, which is much longer than that in baseball time.) Cesar Ramos, who pitched around a ninth-inning single to earn his first save of the season, "was carrying the whole team—the whole town, actually," Montoyo said, referring to how close his team came to setting the Durham Bulls' all-time record for consecutive losses.

This is some emotional stuff. There's no crying in baseball, but there is a hell of a lot of feeling. When you lose 13 straight games, something as painful as lovesickness sets in: that terrible separation from victory gets more and more distant; the very idea of winning recedes like a lover waving from shore as you drift away on the current of loss. As if to underscore the tenderness, the postgame clubhouse stereo was not playing thumping reggaetón or skull-battering heavy metal, but rather keening country music and then, amazingly, Michael Jackson's "Black or White"—that's the song with Macaulay Culkin in the video—whose U.N. and Rainbow Coalition-approved sentiment jived nicely with Montoyo's on the subject of the necessity of hanging tough as an all-for-one unit in times of crisis, which boiled down to this: "Let's be a team."

That's perfectly sound thinking in terms of psychology, mental attitude, and all that kind of thing. But the fact is that a large percentage of the action of baseball really stems from individual feats, not physical "teamwork."

To that end, Matt Torra.

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    When you lose 13 straight games, something as painful as lovesickness sets in.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Things get worse as no-hitter produces record-tying 13th straight loss

Posted by on Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 8:47 PM

DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK Saying the Durham Bulls have been going through hard times this season would be quite the understatement.

Justin Wilson went most of the way in a no-hitter against the reeling Bulls.

The five-time defending South Division champions are in last place in the International League, and it’s been a steady progression to get there.

Headed into Game 3 of their four-game home series with a decent Indianapolis Indians club, the Bulls have lost a club Triple-A record 12 straight games. And they’re one loss away from tying the all-time record – that’s going back to that primeval 1902 club, which ended its season a few months before the Wright boys from Ohio had that first successful plane flight down at Kitty Hawk. That ugly 13 was accomplished by that snakebitten 1995 Carolina League club that christened the new park.

Good news for the Bulls is that ostensible ace Alex Cobb (0-2, 4.09) is on the hill. But the bad news against the Durham lineup of eight left-handers is that southpaw Justin Wilson (1-3, 3.97) is pitching for the Indians.

And it turns out to be really bad news. Wilson is part of a combined no-hitter, the first no-no ever against the Bulls at DBAP as Indy wins 2-0 to extend that losing streak to 13.

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    Saying the Durham Bulls have been going through hard times this season would be quite the understatement.

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San Antonio Scorpions sting winless Carolina RailHawks 1-0

Posted by on Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 8:30 AM

The RailHawks are backing themselves into a corner
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/CARY—Last year was a record-setting one for the Carolina RailHawks. The team set high marks for wins and goals in a season and earned the club’s first regular season title.

This year, the RailHawks have already set another, more ignominious record. Previously, the most games Carolina had gone without a win to start a season was four in 2007, the franchise’s debut campaign. Carolina surpassed that mark Saturday night against the expansion side San Antonio Scorpions, losing 1-0 to go winless over their opening five games of the 2012 NASL season.

After earning just one point over their recent two-game road trip, the RailHawks returned to WakeMed Soccer Park looking to find their footing against a Scorpions squad that was also without a win. Carolina appeared the stronger side for long stretches of the game. However, a late Kevin Harmes goal gave San Antonio their first victory in franchise history and left 3,041 partisans wondering when the RailHawks’ fortunes will change.

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Durham Bulls Shut Out 2-0: When Will it Stop?

Posted by on Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 6:00 AM

DBAP/Durham—The last time I covered the Durham Bulls was the night of April 10. They were shut out by the Charlotte Knights 5-0. After the game manager Charlie Montoyo joked that his older son Tyson said that his younger brother Alex had fallen asleep because the game was so boring. It was just one loss. No big deal. That’s baseball.

The Bulls won an 11am start the next morning, April 11, and everything seemed normal. The team departed Durham for their first road trip with a 5-2 record. Granted, that looming trip was a monster: 14 games in 14 days in Gwinnett, Charlotte, Pawtucket, and Norfolk. But the Bulls sported a talented starting pitching staff and a solid lineup and appeared well on the way to contending for a 6th consecutive division title under manager Charlie Montoyo.

Then the team lost 15 of 16 games, including 12 in a row and counting after tonight’s 2-0 loss to the Indianapolis Indians, leaving their record at 6-17. After tonight’s game, second baseman Will Rhymes, who has spent part of eight seasons in the minor leagues, looked back at that road trip, with a wry smile on his face: “It was brutal. I think it was the worst road trip I’ve ever experienced in baseball. It was poorly planned by the league, in terms of day games after night games, and long travel between games with no days off.”

Then Rhymes paused, clearly not blaming the schedulers for the Bulls’ record, and said: “There are a lot of good baseball players in this locker room. One day something will happen and we’ll turn things around. It’s still April.”

Tonight’s game was nearly a duplicate of the last game I covered eighteen days ago: An excellent performance by a Bulls’ righthander (then Alex Cobb, tonight Chris Archer) was wasted when the Bulls couldn’t score off an opponent’s lefty of the proverbial crafty variety (then it was the Knights’ Eric Stults, tonight it was the Indians’ Rudy Owens).

The Bulls outhit the Indians 6-3 tonight, but the only time they had more than one hit in an inning was the third, when CF Jesus Feliciano led off with a single and C Craig Albernaz followed with a long single into the leftfield gap that sent Feliciano to third. But Albernaz was thrown out at second trying to stretch it into a double. On the next pitch Rhymes popped up to second base and then SS Reid Brignac struck out. It would be the Bulls’ only threat of the game.

Attendance tonight was 8411, a nice turnout.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Preview: Carolina RailHawks host San Antonio Scorpions

Posted by on Sat, Apr 28, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Pablo Campos, during friendlier times
The last time Pablo Campos played at WakeMed Soccer Park was a mere six months ago. Then a member of the Carolina RailHawks, Campos hobbled through leg cramps on his way to a hat trick during Carolina’s shootout loss to the NSC Minnesota Stars in the NASL playoff semifinals. It was the bittersweet finale in a standout season for the Brazilian striker, who scored a team and league second-best 15 goals.

“I gave everything that I had,” Campos said after the match last October. “I’m far away from my family and here for soccer ... My inspiration here tonight was that I love soccer. So, I gave it everything I could and did the things the coach asked. I gave it all.”

Tonight, Campos returns to Cary as a member of the expansion side San Antonio Scorpions in their first meeting with the RailHawks. Last week, Campos scored the first goal in Scorpions franchise history during their 2-2 draw with Fort Lauderdale.

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Indianapolis Indians' rout extends Durham Bulls losing streak to 11 games: One big blah

Posted by on Sat, Apr 28, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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DBAP/ DURHAM—I think Durham Bulls reliever Marquis Fleming may have been looking for the phrase "one big blur" last night after the Bulls were crushed, 13-2, by the Indianapolis Indians. The loss was Durham's 14th in the last 15 games and the team's 11th in a row. They are two losses away from tying the club's all-time record for consecutive defeats.

Fleming had been asked about how the pitchers were trying to recover as a group from a horrid spell that has puffed the team ERA all the way up to 6.29, one of the very worst marks in all of organized baseball. He said that the pitchers had had a meeting earlier that very day, during which "we talked about the mental side of it."

(That put me immediately in mind of what Lance Pendleton, who has quickly put up a 13.50 ERA in two appearances, told me last year after he had stymied the Bulls as a member of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. "Sometimes you get out of whack just slightly," he said, referring to allowing walks. So did walks issued point to faltering mechanically, he was asked? "Maybe not mechanically," he replied, "but maybe mentally-mechanically." Awesome. Mentally-mechanically. I find myself often uttering that borderline-nonsense phrase like a mantra. If I screw up a drink behind the bar, or do something boneheaded while I'm driving: mentally-mechanically, I'll whisper.)

Fleming talked briefly about how the pitchers' meeting included discourse about "not going into panic mode on the mound"—kind of a tacit admission that they've at least already got their fingers near the big red button—and then allowed how balls hit off of opponents' bats had a way lately of finding holes, dropping in for hits, etc. Snowballing.

"It's pretty much just one big..." and here Fleming paused for a moment before landing on the word "blah."

Did he mean "blur" or "blah"? Hard to say. Even though "blur" is what you usually hear there—"one big blur," further unfocused by the club's recent four-city, 14-game road trip—"one big blah" more accurately describes the state of the Durham Bulls.

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    The Bulls have lost 11 straight games. Nevin Ashley broke his hand and Brandon Guyer sprained his ankle. No one hears your screams.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Devastation at last: Durham Bulls return home after disastrous 1-13 road trip

Posted by on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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The cruelest month...

The Durham Bulls don't play today, and they are probably thankful for that. They returned late Wednesday night from a 14-game road trip that can only be called a total disaster. The Bulls lost 13 of the 14 games, including the last 10 in a row.

To put it in perspective, that is the longest losing streak by a Durham Bulls team since the franchise joined the International League in 1998. Chances are good that it is also the longest losing streak in manager Charlie Montoyo's sparkling career, which dates back to 1997. I'm planning to ask him if he recalls such a long skid ever befalling one of his teams.

Remarkably, the Bulls' 6-15 record is not the worst in the IL. Syracuse is 5-13, and that's after winning two games in a row. Still, Durham is in last place in the South Division, 7.5 games behind front-running Gwinnett. It's early in the season and the Bulls are by no means in deep trouble, but they must rebound strongly during the 10-game home stand that commences Friday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, starting that evening with a 7:05 p.m. game against the Indianapolis Indians.

"Devastation at last / finally we meet." That's the opening line from "Mockingbirds" by Grant Lee Buffalo, a band from the 1990s that deserved better than it got. The "at last" part is what's germane here, because the odds dictate that sooner or later the Durham Bulls were guaranteed to land in "a terrible realm," as the song puts it. This has been the proudest, most successful franchise in its league for five years. Even the biggest bull on the block will sometimes stumble. The question is, having been humbled, how will they respond?

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    How great can a team be if its best player isn't great? The Bulls return to the DBAP Friday night after a disastrous 1-13 road trip.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Island giveaway: Puerto Rico grounds Carolina RailHawks 3-1

Posted by on Sun, Apr 22, 2012 at 8:10 PM

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WEB/BAYAMÓN, P.R.—The Puerto Rico Islanders (3-1-0, 10 pts.) continued their fast start to the NASL season by downing the Carolina RailHawks (0-3-1, 3 points) by a score of 3-1 at Bayamón Soccer Complex in Puerto Rico. The RailHawks' first loss this year came with manager Colin Clarke's return to the club he coached the past five seasons before leaving for Carolina.

Brian Ackley and Chris Nurse, both suspended for last Wednesday's tie at Tampa Bay, received their first starts of the year. However, Carolina's backline remained the same...for better and worse. In the 27th minute, Kupono Low was whistled for a handball penalty, and Islanders' striker David Foley calmly converted the PK to give the home side the early lead.

Two minutes later, Puerto Rico expanded their advantage when a cleared RailHawks corner kick found a streaking Jonathan Faña. Faña torched Carolina's hapless defenders before laying the ball off to Richard Martinez for a sublime right-netter from distance.

After intermission, the RailHawks abandoned an inexplicable predilection for long balls that afforded the visitors only two first-half shot attempts. Carolina began to allow their attackers to link-up, and the change paid quick dividends. With Carolina pressing forward, Islanders goalkeeper Richard Martin botched a punch-out in the 50th minute, allowing Brian Shriver to put a boot to the rebound that deflected off defender Jay Needham for an own goal, cutting the lead to 2-1.

Two minutes later, Carolina nearly scored again when Shriver delivered a cross past the face of goal to a charging Ackley. However, the striker could not catch up to the surefire sitter.

With Carolina's offense now on its front foot, the defense suffered its worst breakdown of the game in the 55th minute. Four RailHawks sought to close down a streaking Faña, who obligingly laid the ball off to an unmarked Nick Addlery atop the box. One of the best striker's in D2 soccer had no problem depositing the ball past Carolina keeper Ray Burse to account for the final tally.

The RailHawks next two matches are back at WakeMed Soccer Park, starting with a face-off with expansion side San Antonio Scorpions this Saturday, April 28. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Defense helps Black roll 32-7 in State's Kay Yow Spring Game

Posted by on Sat, Apr 21, 2012 at 6:55 PM

Earl Wolff prepares to wrap up James Washington for the tackle.
CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH N.C. State concludes its spring practice on a warm, sunny afternoon with its annual Kay Yow Spring Game, with pink logos on the field and the “Black” team – which will take on the White – in pink-trimmed jerseys.

The Wolfpack is coming off a decent season with a big finish, as Tom O’Brien’s club rose from the dead on three distinct occasions in November to earn a bid to the Belk Bowl and win it to finish 8-5.

And with a now proven starting quarterback in Mike Glennon and one of the most dangerous secondaries in the country returning intact, the Wolfpack is pretty much a known quantity – save for a completely decimated linebacking corps.

Starter Audie Cole and sometime starter Dwayne Maddox who graduated, starter Terrell Manning who declared for the NFL Draft, and rising junior D.J. Green - who lost a season of eligibility after testing positive for a banned substance - all needed to be replaced.

Senior Sterling Lucas, who missed last season with a knee injury after appearing in 36 games in his first three seasons, is the only experienced linebacker returnee. The five others on the depth chart have played a total of 57 snaps.

In today’s contest - which will be played without kickoffs and in touch-football mode when a sack is imminent – the top offensive players will wear white and the top defenders black. They’ll share a white-clad kicking “battery” of punter Wil Baumann, placement man Niklas Sade and snapper Scott Thompson.

This one is a wipeout for the Black team, which rolls to a 32-7 victory before an announced crowd of 24,797.

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    The defense looked a little ahead of the offense, and for the Wolfpack that's a very good thing.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Durham Bulls Road Roundup, Vol. 7: There once was a man from Pawtucket

Posted by on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 2:24 PM

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Well, this isn't going very well, is it?

The Durham Bulls are just over halfway through a grueling, peripatetic 14-game (!) road trip. The yield from the first eight of these games has been alarming: one win, seven losses, all against division rivals Gwinnett and Charlotte (who swept the Bulls). By my calculations, the Bulls haven't had a 1-7 stretch since way back in 2009. If you want to look on the bright side, they wound up winning the championship that year.

Some notes follow, but if you just want a quick snapshot of what ails the Bulls before you get back on the tour bus and head for another scenic (web) site, try this astounding fact: The Durham Bulls have not hit a home run since April 9.

Let me repeat that, with slightly different phrasing: the Bulls have not hit a home run in a week and a half, a span of 89 innings. That is actually rather hard to do. It is also a large part of the reason why the Bulls, who started the season with a 5-2 homestand to take an early lead in the IL South Division, have fallen to 6-9, already five games out of first place behind front-running Gwinnett (11-4) and Charlotte (8-7). They are just a game ahead of last-place Norfolk. The Bulls have not been this far out of first place since I started covering the team four seasons ago, and I would not be surprised to learn that 2006 was the last time a Durham Bulls team was five games out of first place.

As the season-opening homestand came to an end, no one in Bulls-land had anything good to say about the upcoming two-week road trip, and so far you can see why. The team is up in Pawtucket tonight to open a four-game series, followed by two more games in Norfolk before they come home. If you're a Bulls fan and you feel like writing your own Pawtucket limerick, I don't think you'll have much trouble figuring out the final rhyme.

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    The Bulls have staggered to a 1-7 start on their 14-game road trip.

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