DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK It's unquestionably the biggest baseball game in the Americas tonight, and it's right here in the Triangle.
The 27th annual Triple-A All-Star Game pits the best of the Pacific Coast League against the International League.
Charlie Montoyo, manager of the defending Governors' Cup champion Bulls, is at the helm for the IL tonight.
Four current Bulls - outfielder Mikie Mahtook, infielder Wilson Betemit, and pitchers Merrill Kelly and Mike Montgomery - dot the IL roster. Former Carolina Mudcats outfielder Felix Perez of the Louisville Bats is also on the IL squad, while former Bull infielder Shawn O'Malley - now with the Salt Lake Buzz - is suited up for the PCL.
Buffalo's Liam Hedricks (7-1, 2.19) starts for the IL tonight against New Orleans' Elih Villanueva (8-6, 3.92).
Sparked by a solid night of pitching and some well-placed hits, the IL rolls 7-3 before 10,274.
After Montoyo tosses the ceremonial first pitch for the first time in his life, the home team gets off on a good foot with two runs in the first. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Jose Pirela draws a one-out walk and takes third with two out when Syracuse's Steven Sousa reaches on a two-base error on Tacoma third baseman Gabriel Noriega. Betemit follows with a two-run single off the glove of Reno first baseman Mike Jacobs.
And the IL continues to pound Villanueva in the second. Gwinnett's Phil Gosselin leads off with a single to left, and Syracuse's Jhonathan Solano follows by launching the next pitch over the Blue Monster wall in left. With two out and two on, Omaha's Spencer Patton relieves Villanueva.
Montgomery comes on for the third following a solid outing from Hendriks, who allows just one hit and strikes out four in two shutout innings. The Bulls southpaw fires a perfect frame with one strikeout.
The visitors finally get on the board in the sixth. Albuquerque's Joc Pederson greets Rochester's A.J. Achter by depositing a 3-1 offering over the bleachers in right.
But the IL puts up some more in the bottom of the frame off Sacramento's Paul Smyth. With one out Charlotte's Josh Phegley singles to left, followed by a single up the middle from Norfolk's Ivan DeJesus before Perez triples to the right-field corner. With two out Sousa doubles to left to make it 7-1 and chase Smyth for Nashville's Mike Fiers.
The PCL gets its second run in the seventh on a two-out single from Colorado Springs' Ben Paulsen.
Kelly comes on with two out in the ninth, and El Paso's Jonathan Galvez hits an RBI single to center before Memphis' Stephen Piscotty grounds out.
Hendricks is the Star of Stars for the IL and Tacoma's Chris Taylor - 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles - for the PCL.
They said it …
Montoyo: "That (first pitch) was special. I found out about it two days ago. It was an honor, especially on a day like today when we were showing what Durham is. It was pretty cool. I'm getting emotional just talking about it now. The whole night was great!"
Betemit: "I just enjoyed today. This was really fun. It's great to play an all-star game at home. I was happy to get that hit. I got a fastball inside and I just put the ball in play and got the base hit."
Montgomery: "I just got my inning out of the way and relaxed. It was a good feeling. I had a little bit more nerves going than usual. I had never pitched in an all-star game before. The catcher (Solano) just asked me what I had and I just threw what he asked for."
Perez: "I was very excited about the opportunity here. I got a double and a triple. My power hitting is better this year. I've practiced with bringing my leg high before I swing and it's giving me more power."
What does it all mean?
That the IL will be the home team in the National Championship game Sept. 16 in Charlotte.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
International: Won 2.
Pacific Coast: Lost 2.
IL leads 10-7.
Bulls (Matt Andriese 10-4, 3.42) at Gwinnett (Aaron Northcraft 0-2, 7.04), 6:35 p.m.