Still, despite dominated long stretches of the contest, Head Coach Carlos Somoano was flummoxed by his team’s inability to put away Boston despite holding a two-goal lead late in the second half. Such is the cross to bear for the defending NCAA champions and undefeated number one ranked team in the country, which hadn’t surrendered a goal since the last year’s College Cup semifinals against UCLA.
However, it’s also that time of the year for Puerto Rico, when a morass of international commitments and Cup competitions intersect to divert resources from the stretch run of league play. To wit: after going to Tampa Bay last Saturday to battle the Rowdies, Puerto Rico traveled to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday. They then had to fly back to Puerto Rico to take on the RailHawks three nights later. Moreover, the Islanders were also without their holding midfielder, Chris Nurse, also suspended due to accumulated yellow cards (three of them earned while he was a member of the RailHawks earlier this season). And Jonathan Faña, the team’s assists leader, was coming off a hamstring injury and did not start.
Toss in a brand new turf on which the ball now bounces true and the elements were there for the 3-1 RailHawks victory, one of the biggest of the year for the side from Cary. Carolina was paced by two first-half goals from Brian Ackley and Jason Garey, along with Nick Zimmerman’s team-leading 14th goal served up via another late-game assist from Ty Shipalane.
It was the evidence of things seen—the pitches, the man throwing them, his diffidence and erratic kinetics—and not the grid of simplified numbers, which are anathema to faith, that contained the truth that was to come. After that first start in April, Alex Torres was bad for pretty much the entire of the rest of the season; so bad that, when you compared him to the guy we mostly saw in 2011, you realized that, in fact, we wound up not seeing Alex Torres all year, even when he was pitching before our very eyes.
And then we really didn't see him. On August 4, after what I bet was the worst start of his professional career—he gave up six runs and didn't get out of the first inning on July 29—he was placed on the disabled list. The "injury," he acknowledged last night, did not exist, a thing unseen in which to have no faith.
And like an apostate, like a sinner (because bases on balls are sinful, and he committed an awful lot of them), he went down to the low, low minors and found, if not quite salvation, at least a way back toward it.
And then the prodigy returned to Durham as a prodigal son and was, at least for one night, reborn. He gave the best pitching performance of his two years in Triple-A, Brooks Conrad hit a two-run homer, and the Bulls shut out the Charlotte Knights, 2-0, on the last night of the home season.
And tonight’s contest is likely to be a pretty good indicator for how David Cutcliffe’s sixth season at the helm will be.
The opponent is Florida International, which is marketing hard to become simply “FIU” in the vernacular of the sports fan.
Mario Cristobal’s Golden Panthers were the last team Duke beat, that a 31-27 nail-biter last Oct. 1 in Miami. FIU went 8-5 last season, losing something called the Beef O’Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl to end the campaign.
Duke pours on the points in a huge second quarter, rolling to a 46-26 win to start the season on the right foot.
It’s kind of an historic day for Elon, which will be taking on the Tar Heels in football for the first time ever.
For UNC it’s the beginning of the Larry Fedora era, the coach taking over the helm after going 34-19 in four seasons at Southern Mississippi. The regular season will be it for the Tar Heels this time, as they’re on a one-year bowl ban from the NCAA for academic and other violations. A 10-win kind of season isn’t unthinkable, but UNC needs to get off on the right foot with a convincing win over the FCS opponent. Should Elon win, of course, the Phoenix would suddenly get massive national attention.
The Tar Heels went 7-6 last season, while the Southern Conference member Phoenix was 5-6 in its first campaign
under Jason Swepson.
This one is all UNC, as they roll 62-0 for their first shutout in 13 years.
After opening their season last Saturday with an offensive onslaught against outmatched Gardner-Webb, the Tar Heels faced a tenacious, unbeaten West Virginia side, which came in ranked nationally somewhere between 9th, 24th and “Also Receiving Votes,” depending on your poll of preference. [Indeed, Carolina sits well atop virtually every poll except Soccer America’s, where they are inexplicably sixth.]
Besides another Tar Heel win, the chief common denominator between this weekend and last is the stellar early play of freshman midfielder Danny Garcia. After contributing two assists as a substitute in his first college game against Gardner-Webb, Somoano rewarded Garcia with his first college start against the Mountaineers, a plaudit Garcia learned two days ago and readied for since using everything from increased training to better diet to ice baths.
Coincidentally, after the weather cooled, the Bulls hit their hottest stretch of 2012, winning a season-high six straight games. But then they left home and were swept at Norfolk, scoring a total of one run in three games; meanwhile, while they were gone, the heat gathered itself again. Yesterday afternoon, about 3:30 p.m., one of the Charlotte Knights was lost near the team hotel; he was trying to get to the DBAP but was going the opposite direction. I happened to be headed out of my house for what would turn out to be a scorching run in the sun, and the ballplayer, whom I had never seen before, flagged me down for directions—you can just tell a ballplayer, even before he reveals himself (so can baseball players tell baseball adepts? is that why he picked me to help him?). I pointed the way for him, a Latino player from a presumably caliente climate, and as we walked across Chapel Hill Street he said, prematurely exhausted, "It's hot."
It's not the Knights, though, but the Bulls who are swooning in the heat. Last night, the Bulls dropped their fourth straight game, losing 7-2 to Charlotte, and the game was over before the home team even came to bat. On his fourth pitch of the game, Durham starter Jim Paduch gave up a solo homer to rehabbing White Sox outfielder Alejandro de Aza, who spent ample time with the Knights in 2010 and 2011. Two pitches after that, Bulls third baseman Cole Figueroa made an uncharacteristic error on an easy grounder by another rehabbing major-leaguer, Orlando Hudson.
Then Paduch started bouncing balls all over the dirt, walking Greg Golson and throwing a couple of wild pitches—one of them a Nuke LaLoosh-style, all-the-way-to-the-backstop airmail express package—and a potential third was courteously ruled a passed ball by the official scorer.
Dan Johnson—who was later removed, after the seventh inning, and called up to the majors (yay!)—singled, and one out later I called for Josh Phegley to hit a double off the Blue Monster. It turned out to be a single off the Blue Monster (what was I thinking with a slow catcher running?) and it was 4-0, Knights.
"Just a bad start. Tough to watch," Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said later, landing really hard on the word "bad." He's had to watch a lot of them this season, and they're why his team never had a chance in 2012. Paduch's start last night encapsulated most of what anyone needs to know. He put the Bulls in an immediate deficit, he didn't throw strikes, when he did they got hit, and he didn't make it to the fifth inning.
What do you expect? There have been a few nice moments for Paduch this year, as when he blanked the Pawtucket Red Sox for six innings and beat Daisuke Matsuzaka. But that was almost four months ago. The league figured Paduch out. He had a 2.35 ERA after beating Pawtucket that day; from there it marched up, up, up, topped 5.00, and wound up (after last night) at 5.65. It's the time of the season when ERAs run high.
Paduch shouldn't even have been on the mound last night. Not long ago, Bulls' broadcaster Patrick Kinas mentioned that the Tampa Bay Rays had originally planned to turn Paduch into the late-inning closer for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits this season. Pressed into emergency action as a starter in Durham, one level up, he simply didn't have the tools for the job. Not for nothing did he spend four prime developmental years lost to the world in indy-ball. And he only stayed in this year's rotation for the Bulls because, basically, Alex Torres was a total disaster.
And guess who's starting tonight? Alex Torres.
It's the time of the season.
But the miracle of baseball is its clocklessness. It can change on you like that, because it has, essentially, a limitless opportunity to do so in every game. Time of the season? It's the timelessness of the season, and every day in baseball is its own season.
To wit, last night: First, Dan Johnson got called up. I mean, DAN JOHNSON GOT CALLED UP! I'm so happy for him I can barely express it. He was leading the IL in games played. He was imprisoned in Triple-A. He's been freed.
Then, second, Kevin Kiermaier came into the game for the Bulls.
The Bulls have a player named Kenny Kervmaier? Carny Kevmaier? Now just hold on there, fella.
I will if you will.
If you're departing here but might like to hear what I have to say anyway—and I literally mean "hear"—tune your dial to 620 AM today at noon. I'll be joining Patrick Kinas and Charlie Montoyo on the air during the second half of the Bulls' weekly Saturday radio show.