The Durham Bulls lost last night’s game to the Norfolk Tides 4-0. The stars of the game were: Tides starting RHP Miguel Gonzales, who no-hit the Bulls for five innings and faced only 16 batters before being lifted for a reliever in the sixth inning; Bulls starting right-hander Chris Archer, from nearby Clayton, who gave up five hits and three runs in six innings while striking out 12 and walking only two; and Tides first-baseman Joe Mahoney who hit a two-run triple into the right-center gap off an Archer off-speed pitch in the third inning.
Yet, I have to write about Bulls left fielder Hideki Matsui, age 37. He is, after last night, in his attempt to make it back to the big leagues, a mere four-for-33 (.121) in nine games in a Bulls’ uniform. In the locker room after the game he appeared dejected in his attempt to make it back to the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays. But there’s no telling how much No. 55 Matsui gear the Durham Bulls’ merchandise shop has sold in the last nine days. Judging from the crowd at DBAP last night, it’s a lot. There were also nearly 30 Japanese media credentials issued for last night, including for a daily newspaper with a circulation of 10 million.
Matsui played seven seasons for the New York Yankees. In 2010 he signed with the California Angels. Look at this picture depicting how he was received in his first game back in New York that season.
I’m not a Yankee fan, but this picture moves me.
Now he’s playing for the Durham Bulls.
After tonight’s game, Bulls’ manager Charlie Montoyo was asked by a member of the Japanese media what he sees in Matsui’s struggles. Montoyo, with his customary wisdom, and defense of his players: “Our whole team is struggling at the plate. Matsui just needs at-bats. It would be easier for him if our whole team was hitting. When we aren’t hitting (we only have six hits in our last 18 innings), it makes the opposing pitchers feel more confident and it puts more pressure on each batter. The lack of hitting is contagious. Matsui has been inserted into a lineup that is struggling to hit.”
But, Montoyo, ever optimistic, then said: “It’s still early. It’s only May. And we’ve won 12 of our last 23. There are signs.”
Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays won an extra-inning affair against the Toronto Blue Jays to extend their margin over .500 to nine games. In the post-game call-in show, Neil Solondz (the brilliant, former longtime Bulls’ radio broadcaster) answered a caller who suggested that Matsui be called up to the Rays this week by saying, something like, “Well, he’s only four-for-30 in Durham, but he’s a proven veteran that might be able to help the Rays sooner rather than later.”
A few notes:
Archer was hitting 97 mph in his last inning, the sixth. He finished the game at 97 pitches, 64 strikes. As Montoyo reiterated afterward, if Archer continues to hone his release point, he’s got MLB ace-type stuff. Along with his fastball, he has off-speed pitches (a change, a slider) around 83-85. Plus, he throws just as hard or harder out of the stretch as he does out of his wind-up, which makes you wonder if his future is as a MLB closer.
The home run by Tides’ center fielder Lew Ford in the top of the ninth inning bounced off the tin awning of Tobacco Road restaurant above the wall in left field. It was Ford’s first home run of the season, but it was a bomb. Bulls left fielder Matsui didn’t move, or glance up much to speak of, after the ball was hit.
The Bulls only had one base hit all night. It came off the bat of third-baseman Matt Mangini in the ninth inning. Before that single hit, Tides’ second baseman Ty Kelly booted a routine ground ball on a tailor-made double-play that would have ended the game and preserved the no-hitter. Go figure. If Kelly hadn’t booted that grounder it would have been the second “staff” no-hitter against the Bulls this year.
But the Bulls still aren’t out of it. After five straight division titles, it’ll be fascinating to watching Charlie Montoyo try to squeeze out every possible win that he can this year.
We are lucky to have this product in our backyards.