They didn't need one. Archer had his best start of the season, according to Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo—a big-league start in its precision and potency—and he was backed up by solid bullpen work, especially that of lefty reliever Adam Liberatore, who has been quietly excellent since his promotion from Class AA Montgomery about a month ago. He threw 1 2/3 perfect innings last night and set up Dane De La Rosa, who pitched around a hit and a walk to earn his 17th save, which is tied for third in the league. "I never take him for granted," Montoyo said of De La Rosa after the game, "because it ain't easy to close games at any level"—especially two nights in a row, as De La Rosa did, preserving two-run margins both times.
De La Rosa's 50 appearances this season are three off the league leader's 53. His walk rate is way up, but he has allowed only 35 hits in 64 innings pitched, with 81 strikeouts. After struggling badly to start the season, he has a 1.70 ERA since the second week of May.
Besides "breaking up" the Tides' no-hitter in the first inning, Gimenez also drew walks in his other two plate appearances, including the one that pushed across the Bulls' first run in the sixth. With apologies, however, to him, to Liberatore and De La Rosa and all the rest of the Bulls, you won't be hearing much more about them today.
The night belonged to Chris Archer.
DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK The Durham Bulls play the back half of their two-game set with the Charlotte Knights, who are closing in on the South Division title.
It’s the fourth game of the Bulls’ last extended homestand of the season, and Durham is on a five-game losing streak.
Former Bulls Dan Johnson and Hector Gimenez are in the middle of the Knights’ lineup.
Lance Pendleton (7-5, 4.76) will try to right the ship for the Bulls’ beleaguered pitching staff on a mild evening, while Dylan Axelrod (7-4, 2.97) will go for Charlotte.
This time it’s an actual pitchers’ duel, with the Bulls getting a couple of runs late to win 3-1.
The Bulls are tied for last place in the South Division with the Gwinnett Braves. To borrow from Tolstoy (there, I'm a book critic), all good teams are alike, but each bad team is bad in its own way. The Bulls' method is traditional and expedient: allow sh*t-tons of runs. The Braves, it seems (I don't really know; I only pay attention to them when they play Durham, although I did go to a G-Braves/Tides game down in Georgia recently—and I have proof and more proof), ah, the Braves seem to have the capacity to lose in such weird ways that it is almost wonderful. Their loss to Norfolk last night warrants this little detour down I-85:
Gwinnett took a 3-0 lead into the top of the ninth, having allowed just four hits, only to have the Tides tie it up against the Braves' late-inning B-squad relievers. Manager Dave Brundage had had to burn up the A-list the previous night in order to enable his team to rally and beat Durham in 11 innings. And it was the 11th that would decide the game again for Gwinnett last night. Reliever Ryan Buchter, who had faced five Bulls on Sunday night and walked four of them, came into the game and walked three more batters. He did manage to erase one of them at third base on a sacrifice bunt attempt, but cancelled that out by committing a throwing error on another sacrifice bunt.
After the third walk, Dave Brundage removed Buchter from the game with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run already in for Norfolk. The thing is, Brundage really didn't have anyone to replace Buchter; that's what consecutive 11-inning games will do to your bullpen. So he called on a position player to pitch, but not one on his bench. No, shortstop Josh Wilson walked over to the mound, replaced at his position by Brian Friday. (I guess Wilson pitched rather than Friday because Wilson, 31, is a minor-league soldier type and Friday is 26, still hanging onto prospect status.) Wilson, in Albernazian fashion, was actually making his third pitching appearance of the season. Guess who the second was against? The Durham Bulls, in a 16-8 loss on July 25. Wilson tossed a scoreless ninth inning against the Bulls.
So Wilson trots over the mound from shortstop and promptly allows a two-run single to L. J. Hoes. That makes it 6-3, Norfolk, which will be the final score, but the Braves do add a little more fish to this bicycle: The Tides' Ryan Flaherty follows Hoes' single by popping out to... Brian Friday at shortstop—and I can kind of imagine Wilson standing on the mound and kvetching, enviously, "That's my putout!" And finally, in the fruitless bottom of the 11th, Wilson is the only Brave to reach base when he singles with one out.
Sure, you can make this stuff up, but fortunately you don't have to. You have the Gwinnett Braves and the Durham Bulls, tied for last place, doing it for you by being nice to other teams, allowing 52 hits in three days and putting shortstops on the mound in tense extra-inning games. And you probably know what the vicious and venerable manager Leo Durocher said about nice guys: "Nice guys finish last."
That's why the big cognitive dissonance thing going on at the DBAP these days—other than the sight of a Charlie Montoyo-managed, five-time division champ stumbling around in the late-August basement, of course—is the constant sound of Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy" on the PA system.
But you know what? Watching the replay multiple times, slowing it down and freezing the frames, I discovered that Beckham did indeed catch Wrigley's throw while touching second base with his foot. He timed his arrival there so that his momentum, upon catching the ball, would let him half-leap toward the outfield, out of the way of the charging baserunner, and enable him to make an unobstructed throw to first. Hell of a play by all three fielders, especially Beckham. My bad.
I bring this up not only to right a wrong, mine, and not merely to recount what few bright spots shine for the Durham Bulls, mid-August, 2012. I also want to lead with Tim Beckham, because Beckham is by far the most interesting Durham Bull this season, with a knack for finding/putting himself in the thick of things. In Durham's 13-10, 11-inning loss to Gwinnett on Sunday, wherever the action was, he seemed close to it.
On Saturday, the Bulls lost despite the highlight-reel double play. The game was decided during a disastrous (for the Bulls) fifth inning during which Durham reliever Josh Lueke allowed eight straight batters to reach base safely. Remember that detail.
Sunday's game was played under a heavy, gray, low-barometer sky and a fair amount of rain and drizzle. I was actually cold after the sun set. This game, too, seemed like it would be decided early, but in the Bulls' favor. In a stretch of the bottom of the third inning, six of eight batters reached against Gwinnett's Julio Teheran, who is in total free-fall after coming into the season rated the Braves' top prospect. It was 7-3, Bulls, by the time Teheran was lifted for a reliever, and at that juncture I was thinking what a difference a day makes. Sure, the Bulls aren't a quality team this year, but baseball's incessant dailiness has a refreshing eraser effect. The Bulls, behind rehabbing Rays starter Jeff Niemann, were going to ride their seven early runs and their big-league guest star to victory.
They tried to hand the game to Gwinnett, as Niemann and piggyback "starter" Matt Torra let in six runs over seven innings, including Torra's league-leading 23rd home run allowed. But Gwinnett kept handing it back. It was 7-4, then 8-4, then 9-4, 9-6, and so on. After seven innings, the margin was again four runs, as it had been in the third, 10-6. Lefty reliever Frank De Los Santos, who has pitched his way onto the Tampa Bay Rays' bullpen radar, was going to pitch the eighth for Durham, and Dane De La Rosa, tied for fourth in the league in saves, was lined up for the ninth.
Except Gwinnett scored four runs in the eighth to tie the game.
Many years later, as he faced the Braves' firing squad, Colonel Josh Lueke was to remember that distant afternoon when... I mean, Josh Lueke, 11th inning, hours later, extends opponent on-base streak to 12, takes loss, shoulder back on ice. Like the poet said yesterday, if it weren't for bad Lueke, the Bulls would have no Lueke at all.
The Bulls are now tied with Gwinnett for last place in the IL South Division.
But let's get back to Tim Beckham.
Sorry about that. Couldn't help myself. In fact, Bulls reliever Josh Lueke had been on an oversized roll after an absolutely dreadful first three months of the season. Through all of July up until yesterday, Lueke had allowed just two runs over his last 23 innings, shaving more than two runs off of his bloated 6.57 ERA. "My hottest guy," Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said later of Lueke, and he wasn't talking about Lueke's looks.
So last night, the Bulls were leading the Gwinnett Braves, 4-1, in the top of the fifth inning. Durham starter Jim Paduch, back in the rotation temporarily while up-and-coming prospect Alex Colome deals with an injury (upper rib cage, it seems), put the first two Braves on base with a hit and a walk. Paduch hadn't exactly been stellar to that point, despite having allowed just the one run. Nursing a three-run lead, Montoyo decided Paduch should quit while he was ahead, and called on Lueke.
Lueke struck out Felix Pie for the first out.
Then the next eight men reached base, seven of them via hits.
The only other out Lueke recorded came when Jose Yepez, with runners on first and second, hit a high and deep fly ball to right field. At the wall, the Bulls' Stephen Vogt leaped but could not make the catch. The two runners on base waited, as they are trained to do, to see if the ball would fall in safely. But Yepez did not. He assumed he had a double, and by the time he looked up, halfway to second base, he saw Josh Kroeger standing on it, and was put out on the basepaths after a 320-foot single.
Four hits and a walk after that, with six runs and about 40 minutes already in the books since the inning had begun, Adam Liberatore relieved Lueke and allowed a two-run single to Pie, which a) made the score 9-4, Gwinnett, after an eight-run inning, and b) gave the Braves a share of what must be a very rare feat: every batter in the lineup had exactly one hit in the inning—which took so long to play that Braves starter Randall Delgado went down to the bullpen with backup catcher J. C. Boscan and threw warmup tosses, just to stay loose. Halfway through the game, we were on a four-hour pace. (These two teams played a nine-inning game even longer than that last month down in Georgia, a 15-walk slog that took 4:15 to play.)
Speaking of slogs: From what I can tell, the Bulls took an overnight bus ride from Ohio, got in around lunchtime, tried to sleep/unpack/regroup, and then headed to the DBAP to play against a Gwinnett team that was chilling at the Marriott and ducking into Beyu Caffe for lunch.
The Braves went on to win, 10-5. They're just a game behind Durham, poised to push the Bulls down into last place in the South Division.
The Charlotte Knights, meanwhile, beat the Norfolk Tides, mathematically ending the Bulls' chances of winning the division and their run of five straight division titles. After you stop crying, believe in magical thinking anyway and make the jump.
DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK The Durham Bulls come into the finale of their homestand looking for a split of their four-game set with the Columbus Clippers.
The Bulls are coming off back-to-back losses, having dropped a 3-0 decision on Wednesday night after falling 2-1 in 10 innings on Tuesday.
Matt Torra (5-5, 4.97) will go against Clippers lefty David Huff (5-5, 4.97) in front of a big crowd on a warm evening.
The bats are back, as Chris Gimenez homers twice with five RBI and everyone in the lineup hits safely in a 12-2 romp.
DBAP/Durham-Tonight's first pitch was at 7:22pm, seventeen minutes late, for a game with the Columbus Clippers. A massive thunderstorm was making its way through north Durham and into Wake County. Radar cells were popping up everywhere. Nobody knew if tonight's game would happen.
But the game actually filled a full nine innings in an appropriate time frame, despite the delayed start.
DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK It’s Game 2 of the Durham Bulls’ four-game set with the Columbus Clippers, and the Bulls are looking to continue a solid homestand.
The Bulls remain in third place in the International League’s South Division, trailing the first-place Charlotte Knights by 10 games with 26 left in the season.
There’s a local guy on the mound tonight, as Clayton High alum Chris Archer (6-8, 4.15) will go against southpaw Eric Berger (2-4, 5.16).
Tonight the Clippers are just a little better, winning 2-1 in 10 innings.
Durham/DBAP - Last night’s game between the Durham Bulls and the Columbus Clippers was delayed by thirty-three minutes due to rain. First pitch ended up being at 7:38. Sprinkles of rain were on and off for the first three and a half innings.
I’m no meteorologist, but the weather is changing this week: The expected high temperatures over the next five days are in the low eighties. Whatever dynamics are in play, the variety of clouds over the DBAP tonight, before darkness fell, was astonishing.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), cloud classifications can be listed as such below (I remember studying this in middle school or junior high science class, but I had to consult NOAA’s website to make sure I got it right):
DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK It’s the finale of the four-game series with the rival Gwinnett Braves, and the Bulls are going for a sweep.
Today is “Negro League Night” (sic; there is actually a 5:05 start, making it a day game.) The teams will appear in classic replica uniforms of teams of the Negro American and Negro National League, giving the appearance of an all-star game.
Cesar Ramos (4-3, 2.17) will take on Gwinnett’s Sean Gilmartin (0-1, 3.86) in a battle of lefties.
The sweep of four close games doesn’t happen, as the Braves get to Dane De La Rosa for three in the ninth and win 6-4.