Speaking of familiar, how about Justin Ruggiano vis a vis Braves' starter Todd Redmond? The Roodge had a pair of homers off Redmond in the same game last May 9, and added a couple of doubles off the Braves' pitcher in two other games against him. So it was no surprise at all last night when Ruggiano launched a high third-inning pop fly into the blowing-hard-to-left wind, and the current carried the ball over the Blue Monster and onto the concourse for a home run. (A hawk visited the airspace over the DBAP in the third inning and then again in the sixth or seventh; it just floated on the jetstream, exampling the wind's force and vector; all you had to do was hit one as the hawk flies and you had a chance for extra bases.)
Sometimes you just see a certain pitcher well. It has to be said, in the ongoing case of Justin Ruggiano v. Todd Redmond (and His Own Past), that he had manufactured another Roodge ca. 2010 at-bat in his first appearance versus Redmond. He fell behind 1-2, fouled off an assortment of curveballs and fastballs, and then grounded out to second base on Redmond's ninth pitch. The result may not have been ideal, but it a) moved the runners over and b) was another convincing piece of evidence in Ruggiano's appeal to the high baseball court. The windblown homer two innings later—on the first pitch he saw from Redmond—was a sort of affirmation of Ruggiano's new approach at the plate. He has changed his walk-up music to a mellow reggae-ish groove called "The Struggla," which is indicative of his newfound respect for the labor and placidity and rhythm necessary to good hitting. Last year it was (and in late innings still is) the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage."
What the 2009 season proved was that Ruggiano was his own saboteur, getting in his head or maintaining a blind spot on pitches low and away. But the pleasant irony of 2010 so far is that Ruggiano is neither the Saboteur nor the Struggla. The homer extended his hitting streak to 11 games, and it extended the Bulls' lead to 5-0. Joe Dillon followed one out later with another homer to left—the line drive needed no help from the wind, hit the Bull and won him a steak from the Tobacco Cafe, or whatever the skyward thing behind the concourse is called; it hasn't opened yet, so I can only assume that they're dry-aging Dillon's reward-to-be in anticipation of his (and their) arrival.
Those two third-inning taters by Ruggiano and Dillon confirmed the argument that the Bulls made in the first inning off of Redmond, when they tagged him for four runs, the key hit a two-run homer by Chris Richard, who went down and castigated a lame curveball. This game was effectively over before it really began. Ways in which the Bulls aren't kidding around after the jump.
Dan Johnson gave the Durham Bulls a jump start in the fourth inning as the International League’s hottest team routed the host Charlotte Knights for the second straight day.
Johnson’s three-run homer broke a scoreless tie, sparking the Bulls to an 11-0 victory at Knights Stadium in the second of a four-game, two-city series.
Johnson, who finished with three hits and four RBI, leads the IL with six homers. Ryan Shealy doubled and singled for four RBI for the Bulls, while Joe Dillon added a double and two singles for one RBI and everyone in the Bulls’ lineup scored.
Aneury Rodriguez went seven strong innings and was the winning pitcher in his Triple-A debut, while Jeffrey Marquez (1-2) took the loss.
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats continue their opening homestand looking for some success against the Montgomery Biscuits, who are currently atop for Southern League’s South Division.
The Mudcats are two games behind the Tennessee Smokies, who will arrive in Zebulon on Monday, in the North Division race.
Today Carolina will send the Dutch lefty Alexander Smit to the mound against Jeremy Hall.
It’s sunny, windy and cool as the game gets going. Montgomery is in control most of the way, but the Mudcats score three in a stirring ninth-inning rally to win 8-7 in front of a decent crowd of 5,924.
John Matulia homered and doubled for four RBI, leading the Montgomery Biscuits to an 8-4 win over the Carolina Mudcats at Five County Stadium.
Drew Anderson had four hits while Greg Sexton was 3-for-4 with two doubles for Montgomery.
The Mudcats managed six hits in the game, including two from Kris Negron (pictured) and two from Jake Kahaulelio.
Aneury Rodriguez was the winning pitcher while Dallas Buck took the loss.
There were 10,374 (VERY QUIET) people on hand—-a great step up from the last exhibition like this, in 2002, which drew, by Bulls' General Manager Mike Birling's estimate, only about 6,500 fans. Tampa only averages around 23,000 spectators per game in a metroplex of nearly 3,000,000 people, so this was a great turnout by any standards.
There were also tons of press folks at the ballpark for the event—-the first Bulls-vs.-Rays tilt at the DBAP since 2002—-and blow-by-blow accounts can be found all over the place, the best of which is probably here. (A shout-out to Rays' beat-writer Marc Topkin, who was gracious and friendly and took the time to answer all kinds of questions about 11th-hour personnel moves.)The Rays beat the Bulls 9-6. Notes, observations and a few de facto Bulls preview bits after the jump.
Hey, did I mention that baseball's back? I did? Is that not the best news of the year?
ESPN 2---And that's that: the Durham Bulls took a 4-0 lead early, squandered it in the middle, and got help at the end to beat the Memphis Redbirds, 5-4, in 11 innings and claim the Triple-A Championship. It's kind of amazing, really. (What's really great is that the Bulls' own Web site has the winning run in Memphis's row in the linescore.) The Bulls, who are the first International League team to win the crown, are officially the best Triple-A baseball team in America, which by extension makes them the best team in the entire minor leagues. They could probably also take six of 10 from the Pittsburgh Pirates, if they had Winston Abreu---which they don't, not anymore, but that's for well after the jump.
Did you know, by the way, that 2009 is the Year of the Bull? A game report and some final thoughts follow.
DBAP/ DURHAM---Fans who came out to see the last home game of the Durham Bulls' 2009 season---2,480 of you, officially---got a bit of a bonus. Last night's 4-1 Durham win was basically two separate games: first, a three-inning tune-up for a pair of recuperating starting pitchers, followed by the real deal, when the two teams' tenured players faced off for six taut innings of playoff baseball. With the win, the Bulls put themselves on the brink of a championship they haven't won since 2003.
The entire game was played in a steady mizzle, and it seemed appropriate that the last game of the year saw the same sort of weather that has hung over the Triangle all season long: gray, moist, heavy, moody. Not a fun evening for a pair of rehabilitating starters to get their work in, but that's what they did. The Bulls have to be grateful that Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Ian Kennedy was on a low pitch limit. He faced nine batters and retired them all, striking out six of them. Kennedy, who is coming back from an aneurysm in his pitching arm, threw 43 pitches, 28 for strikes, and had the Bulls totally mastered from the get-go. He struck out the side swinging in the first, making Joe Dillon look stupid on a changeup for the last strike of the inning. He got Sean Rodriguez looking in the second inning, on a fastball that was more or less right down the middle. He had Justin Ruggiano chasing sliders after that.
The story was different for the Bulls' starter, Mitch Talbot.
DBAP/ DURHAM---The luck bubbles were still blowing for the Durham Bulls in the first inning of last night's 5-2 loss to the Louisville Bats. They had gotten a healthy spray of good fortune in Game One: four errors by the Bats, which helped score three Durham runs (plus, the Bulls' three errors didn't figure in any of Louisville's four runs); and some well-placed, softly struck hits. The Bulls' eight runs on Wednesday were somehow rather bubble-like---transparent, hollow, unmemorable---but they still won the game.
And in the first inning last night, the Bulls were lucky before anyone came to the plate: rehabbing Reds right fielder Jay Bruce was out with a sore groin. Then, both Desmond Jennings and Rashad Eldridge reached on infield singles, the latter when his dribbler down the third base line hit the bag. The third man to hit was Joe Dillon, and with the count 2-1, Charlie Montoyo put on a hit-and-run. Dillon's little grounder found the precise first-base hole it needed to, and Jennings scored. Eldridge scored, too, on Matt Joyce's subsequent double-play ball. Four batters, two runs.
Those were the only runs they'd get. The luck ran out. Or rather, it kept running, but it kept running in the way that water keeps running even after the hot water tank runs out. The proof of that was in the sixth inning. We cut to that soon after the jump.
Case in point: not long after I went all Heisenberg in yesterday's playoff preview of the series between the Durham Bulls and the Louisville Bats---cautioning readers about the transitory and frankly inscrutable nature of Triple-A rosters---the Tampa Bay Rays read what I wrote and decided to have a little more fun with us and/or do something to shore up their collapsing bullpen, which wilted again and let down David Price last night. They recalled Dale Thayer (pictured, pre-mustache), and as I was already wondering aloud here the other day, what took them so long? Can Thayer be much worse than what they're getting from their relief corps lately?
Also, after his great debut on Sunday, Wade Davis has been asked to repeat the performance this coming Saturday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. I don't think he's likely to come back to Durham, either this season or any other. Andy Sonnanstine has been relegated to the bullpen, where he can ply Thayer for mustache grooming tips---even if he doesn't decide to grow one. A mustache.
A glance at the Durham Bulls' web site suggests that Travis Wood, not Ben Jukich, is Louisville's starter tonight. If that's the case, it means that a pair of 22-year-olds who were both pitching in the Double-A Southern League less than two months ago will be spearheading their respective Triple-A clubs' playoff runs tonight. With Hellickson and Wood on the mound, you may be seeing two of the new young guns of the big leagues in action this evening.
Finally, for those looking for a little sports crossover, here's yet another good reason to come to the games tonight and tomorrow: Carolina Hurricanes Erik Cole and Chad LaRose will throw the ceremonial first pitches on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Unless they're called up to Tampa.
DBAP/ DURHAM---I thought it was cute that second baseman Henry Mateo was penciled in at first base in this afternoon's season finale, a 4-3, 10-inning loss to Norfolk. Mateo had played there once before, on August 23, although he moved back to his natural position at second base when rehabbing Akinori Iwamura left the game early, as scheduled. It seemed like it was just for kicks that Mateo was playing there again today, like a way for Charlie Montoyo to say thanks for filling the hole for us this season. Mateo was signed out of the independent Atlantic League in May, and he came on like gangbusters, batting well over .300 for more than a month and holding down the fort at second base. He wound up at .277 and looked shakier in the field as the season progressed, but there's no question that Mateo did something for the Bulls that they badly needed: he showed up and played every day.
And so it was fun when the diminutive infielder had to leap for a tall throw from the pitcher in the sixth inning, and funner still when he ended the eighth inning by diving to grab a line drive and then polishing off an unassisted double play after the Tides' Jonathan Tucker broke too far from first base.
Turns out it's not so cute. It was Joe Dillon's day off, and Chris Richard, the guy who you would call the Durham Bulls' first baseman if someone asked you who played that position, was called up to Tampa. In the afternoon opener of a day/night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, Rays' first baseman Carlos Pena had two fingers broken when he was hit by a pitch from C. C. Sabathia. Richard (pictured, top) was headed to the airport shortly afterward---and by shortly, I mean, like, minutes, and he may get into Game Two tonight in the Bronx if he can get there on time. Maybe the NYPD will clear a lane of the Triborough Bridge for him.
This is why major-league clubs employ older players like Richard: so that when there's a catastrophe upstairs, you've got a guy who can immediately fill in and isn't going to be cowed by Yankee Stadium or the fastballs A. J. Burnett throws in it. Now, Carlos Pena is leading the American League in homers, so Richard is certainly a major downgrade. But he's a well-trained left-handed hitter with good power, going to a ballpark famously generous with its right-field homers; and on top of that, Richard is an easy guy to get along with in the clubhouse. He fits right in at first base, where he is a very good defensive player.
He also hasn't played in the major leagues since 2003, and that was only 27 at-bats. So, you know, we'll see.
Richard is 35 years old, the oldest player on the Bulls' roster. Although it's a blow to lose him on the eve of the playoffs, he's a guy you feel good for when he gets a chance like this (admittedly, it's a muted positive, given that it comes as a result of a bad injury to a star player). Charlie Montoyo was so happy for Richard that he wasted no time after the game in telling us about the promotion. We asked him a question about Mitch Talbot, who was in the dugout yesterday, and Montoyo answered it in one word ("yes") before jumping to the news about Richard. "I was really happy to tell Chris Richard he was going up. That guy's been with me for three years now, and he's been one of my leaders."
And now that leader is gone.
Some brief notes follow, before I return tomorrow with more on the upcoming playoff series against Louisville.