DURHAM/DBAP—The Durham Bulls entered last night’s series opener with the Syracuse Chiefs having won five games in a row. After losing 13 consecutive games in April, Charlie Montoyo’s club had clawed its way to within five games of a .500 record, within sight (at least with binoculars) of playoff contention with almost half a season remaining, a semi-remarkable achievement, especially considering the weekly/daily roster turnover due to injuries and other problems with Tampa Bay and in Durham.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs entered the game having won eight games in a row, solidly in contention.
Thus, what happened shouldn’t be a surprise, with two hot teams lining up. When nine innings were complete the game was tied 1-1. The Bulls’ line score was one run, six hits, and one error. The Chiefs’ was one run, six hits, and one error.
Through nine, the narrative thread of the game was easy to see; the starting pitchers were in complete control. Bulls’ starter, right-hander Matt Torra, and Chiefs’ starter, left-hander John Lannan, were mirror images of one another. Both pitchers had moderate velocity on their fastballs, topping off around 88-90 miles per hour, and various change-ups and breaking pitches in the low- to mid-80s.
Torra was particularly impressive. His four-seam fastball was hitting 90 while his two-seam sinker was around 88. He threw his change 79-83 miles per hour and some kind of cutter/slider in the 83-85 range. He was hitting both sides of home plate umpire Ben May’s generous strike zone. Torra pitched seven and 2/3 scoreless innings before Chiefs’ centerfielder Corey Brown, who had struck out three times in his first three at-bats, hit Torra’s first pitch, a fastball over the plate, about 400 feet into the right-field stands to tie the game at 1-1.
But, wait, I almost forgot, longtime big league relief pitcher, the right-handed Kyle Farnsworth, started the game for the Bulls in a rehab assignment for the Rays. He pitched the first inning and was relieved by Torra. So Torra had only pitched 6 and 2/3 scoreless innings before Brown’s bomb tied the game. In any case, it was an artful performance by Torra.
Farnsworth’s start was announced by the Bulls earlier in the day. When I arrived at the stadium about 15 minutes before the first pitch, there were an unusually large number of ticket-buyers for a Tuesday game lined up outside the box office. Maybe some had heard about the Farnsworth start, maybe some were there because of the beautiful weather. First pitch temperature was 79 degrees with limited humidity, a perfect night at the DBAP.
If anybody came late to see Farnsworth, they would have missed him. He threw only 13 pitches to four batters. His fastball peaked at 96 miles per hour. He threw a couple of filthy breaking balls at 87-88, and what looked like a cutter or two at 90-91. It must be nice to be 36 years old and able to express yourself that overwhelmingly on an athletic level, and still not really be much more than a high level journeyman. I mean, as good as Farnsworth is, good enough for his one-inning start to be a little bit of an event at the DBAP, he still has only 39 wins and 52 saves in 13 seasons and 894 innings in the major leagues.
The game ended in 12 innings at the mark of four hours and 12 minutes. The Chiefs won 3-2.
This weekday series promises to be a good one at the DBAP, before the Bulls hit the road and 100-plus temperatures reach the Triangle for several consecutive days.