On a perfect night for baseball, with temperatures in the mid 60s, the Durham Bulls defeated the Syracuse Chiefs, 4-2, in its only win of the four-game home stand.
The crowd on hand, 8,227, at Durham Bulls Athletic Park was electric all night and even sustained “the wave” for almost the entirety of the eighth inning.
Bulls fans had plenty to cheer about early and often as the team scored in three consecutive innings, third through fifth, and added an insurance run in the eighth.
Starting pitcher J.D. Martin (4-1) was solid once again this season, completing seven innings of work, allowing five hits, two runs and five strikeouts.
Josh Leuke started the eighth inning in relief of Martin and captured the six-out save, his seventh on the season.
Wil Myers, who started the game in right field, was replaced early in the game by Rich Thompson. Myers being benched created a nervous stir in the crowd and web with rumors spreading about the talented prospect either being traded or called up to Tampa Bay.
I’m a new intern with INDY Week with a primary focus of covering the Durham Bulls over the summer. Next fall I’ll be a senior at N.C. State and the sports editor at N.C. State's campus paper, the Technician.
Tuesday night’s Bulls game was my first experience at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and this summer I'll be looking for stories as I follow the team. There are 25 players on the active roster, and with all of the comings and goings of a minor league team, I can expect to encounter many new names. So, last night's game against the Syracuse Chiefs was mainly an occasion for me to familiarize myself with the squad.
The Bulls opened the scoring in the first inning as I got my first look at a couple of key prospects. After highly rated Wil Myers singled to center, Leslie Anderson bombed a homer to right to give starting pitcher Alex Torres a 2-0 lead.
Torres put in a good outing, allowing four hits, two walks and seven strikeouts in six innings, but he lived dangerously. He faced back-to-back bases-loaded situations in the fourth and fifth innings, but the Chiefs were unable to get a run across the plate.
Syracuse finally broke through in the seventh, scoring three runs that would decide the game. At the top of the seventh, skipper Charlie Montoyo replaced Torres with De Los Santos, who was quickly replaced after giving up the lead.
Will Inman relieved De Los Santos, and promptly threw the game away.
With a runner in scoring position the Chiefs executed a squeeze bunt, which worked beautifully thanks to Inman. Inman cleanly fielded the bunt but the throw to first base hit the dirt and short hopped the first baseman, sending the Chief base runner home for the go-ahead run.
The Bulls mounted a comeback in the ninth. Anderson and Shelley Duncan both hit back-to-back singles with one out, but the Bulls were unable to score.
Thanks to the three-run seventh, the Chiefs held the Bulls at bay for a 3-2 victory. Here's the box score.
The teams didn't get much of a break afterward, with an 11:05 a.m. first pitch for today. The Chiefs won that one, 5-3, despite 17 strikeouts by three Bulls pitchers. Both teams are back Thursday at 7:05. I'll be there. You can follow my tweets @IndyweekSports and @jastout89.
The DBAP hosted last year's Triple-A National Championship game. The Bulls made this extraordinarily rainy affair come off beautifully, somehow getting the field into playing condition in time for first pitch despite a daylong deluge. The Bulls were already angling for the All-Star Game at that time, and their performance (plus the 8,000 fans who showed up despite the weather) must have helped seal the deal.
And it's a rather big one. You could tell that from the attendance in the Bulls' home clubhouse this morning, because the rotation of speakers included not just Bulls General Manager Mike Birling and Marketing Director Scott Carter, but also Durham Mayor Bill Bell, International League President Randy Mobley and Duke University's Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations, Michael Schoenfeld.
Tickets are not yet on sale and probably won't be for a while. The exact schedule for the All-Star game has yet to be announced. When tickets do become available, priority will go to Bulls season ticket holders. This means that, conceivably, all 10,000 tickets could be snapped up before the general public ever has a crack at them. Stay tuned.
And read on for a few more thoughts on the latest windfall in Durham's current boom.
McKIMMON CENTER/RALEIGH Texas Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison was the first active player in seven years not named Josh Hamilton to win the Will Wynne Award as the North Carolinian contributing most to baseball.
Those were just two of the big award winners at the 63rd annual baseball banquet of the Raleigh Hot Stove League on Tuesday night.
And although the Durham Bulls had their worst season in six years and didn’t get anywhere near the game, there’s a great crowd of 8,601 in the house.
The Pawtucket Red Sox, Durham’s worst tormentors in the International League with a 36-27 record in the park, are the Governors’ Cup Champions taking on the Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League.
Manager of the Aces is Brett Butler, who was a member of the legendary 1980 Bulls who brought pro baseball back to the city after a seven-year absence. Oddly enough, his Bulls teammate Gerald Perry is the PawSox’ hitting coach.
Trevor Bauer, who was the No. 3 overall pick in last season’s draft from the Arizona Diamondbacks, will take on 38-year-old PawSox starter Nelson Figueroa.
The series is tied with each league having three wins apiece. Reno is the home team since the PCL won the Triple-A All-Star Game this year.
Reno scores early and often, banging out 13 hits in an easy 10-3 win.
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.
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.
It was the Bulls' sixth straight victory, their longest winning streak of the year. The last five of these wins have come at the expense of the Norfolk Tides, and there is a little precedent for this. The Bulls and Tides played a home-and-home seven-game series in 2010, and the Bulls won six in a row, the first five at Harbor Park in Norfolk. The Bulls were the class of the International League that season, on their way to an impressive 88-55 record, and the Tides would finish last in the South Division.
Things are much reversed this time. Norfolk was in contention for the playoffs when the just-concluded series began. After the Bulls five-finger-discounted them, though, they're about finished. Last night's loss drops Norfolk under .500 and 5 1/2 games back of wild-card leader Pawtucket with only seven games left to play, and two other teams, Lehigh Valley and Columbus, between them.
And for the Bulls, not only have they played spoiler, but a moral victory is at hand, too. They are now 3 1/2 games better than last-place Gwinnett in the IL South. Barring a total collapse, Durham will at least finish the year out of the basement, which they shared with the G-Braves less than a week ago. It's certainly possible that the Bulls will go into a final, week-long slump and end the season on a low note, but as it stands now, they've very nearly salvaged 2012 in these last six days. The team lost 13 of 14 straight road games in April, spoiling the soup before it was even on the stove. Had they gone 7-7 on that trip, not an unreasonable outcome to hope for, they'd be a .500 team as of today. That one freakish and ruinous stretch is the scar on an otherwise decent body of work.
So how have they turned themselves around?
DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK It’s a bit too late to do anything about the pennant race, but the Durham Bulls are very hot right now.
And they’ll have a solid arm on the mound on an unseasonably cool, as big Jeff Niemann (0-0, 8.31) will make his second rehab start. Zach Clark (4-1, 1.44) will go for Norfolk.
The Bulls get the fourth save in five days from Dane De La Rosa, who gets his 19th of the season in the 5-3 win.
They came down, one by one, via a pleasing route that wound them across the outfield, over the right-field stands, and then, banking sweetly, back into the outfield again, where they landed on the grass to rousing applause. It was a sort of pageant from above, and Mother Nature provided an encore not long after. It's that time of year here, late August, when the angle and texture of the early-evening sunlight are growing autumnal, but still with the warmth of summer, and so the ballpark was bathed in luminous gold as the game began. This was the kind of magical light that could calm the most agitated soul, lift the morose from misery—or inspire dreadful purple prose.
And then, in a final flourish, the sky in the bottom of the second inning was dominated by a high-arcing rainbow that stretched from way out behind center field off into the beyond.
And after Chris Gimenez and Leslie Anderson added to the airborne events a pair of homers that accounted for four runs—and, okay, the Tides hit a couple homers of their own off of Bulls starter Matt Torra (who got his 12th win anyway)—the Durham bullpen set the sun down slowly and the Bulls beat Norfolk 8-3.
It was the Bulls' fourth win in a row and their third straight over Norfolk, ebbing the Tides' playoff aspirations almost all the way out to sea. As the season winds down into its final fortnight, Durham is playing much better baseball—they are playing like a winning baseball team, in fact—and although they are out of contention for the post-season, there is plenty left to play for, much more indeed than the International League playoffs. The Bulls' sights are set higher: on the paradise of the major leagues, and on the sky's-the-limit promise of next year.