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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bulls Clip Red Wings: Mitch's Mischief

Posted by on Sun, May 17, 2009 at 12:57 AM

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DBAP/ DURHAM---Durham starter Mitch Talbot recovered from a shaky first two innings and proceeded to toss the best four innings I've seen from a Bulls starter this season, setting the table for a 4-3 comeback win, the Bulls' fourth in a row.

After getting whacked around with establishing his fastball and changeup early on, Talbot (pictured, left) began throwing his slider more frequently, with superb results: The pitch had a sharp, late, down-knifing break, and as his catcher, John Jaso, told me afterwards, it was "the biggest game for his slider all year."

Once he had that working, Jaso said, the battery started working the north-south action -- high fastballs to keep the hitters from focusing downward too much, with a few changeups worked in to vary Talbot's velocity. He hit 94 mph with his fastball, mid-80s with his slider, and low 80s with the change.

The results? Talbot struck out nine of the last 17 batters he faced (10 overall, 9 swinging), and if not for a glove error by Ray Sadler in left field (where Sadler doesn't play much), he would have retired the last nine men he faced. It was a dominant stretch in a season so far without many for Bulls starters. Talbot threw 99 pitches in six innings, 69 for strikes. It was only too bad that the Bulls didn't take the lead until an inning after Talbot departed, giving the win to reliever Randy Choate (3-0). Dale Thayer pitched around a leadoff double in the ninth to record a four-out save, his sixth of the season. Thayer's ERA dropped back down under 1.00 (0.93).

On the other side of the ball, Chris Richard hit two doubles, the first of which narrowly missed turning into what would have been his third home run in his last four at-bats -- and, had Justin Ruggiano not thoughtlessly gotten himself thrown out at second one play before (he'd make another questionable baserunning decision four innings later), his third grand slam in four at-bats. Richard also lined out to right and, with any speed at all, could have turned his grounder in the shortstop hole into a single in the fourth. I guess he's only interested in extra-base hits anymore.

Ruggiano -- OK, The Roodge again, despite his traffic infractions on the basepaths -- was 2-4 with a game-tying RBI double in the fifth inning. He stole his 9th base of the season after the double, exploiting Rochester third baseman Luke Hughes's choice to play in the hole with Ruggiano on second. The attempted steal was a violation of the old baseball "rule" that tells you to avoid making the third (or first) out of an inning at third base: you'll probably score from second on a base hit anyway, so trying to take third is pointlessly reckless. Hughes dashed over to cover the third-base bag and Red Wings' catcher Drew Butera's throw was a good one; the play was so close that Hughes hopped around angrily after Ruggiano was called safe by umpire Mark Lollo, who has seen some hot action already in this series. (Hughes hopped around again shortly thereafter, when he fouled a ball off of his own hand; he left the game an inning later.)

Reid Brignac hit the ball hard four times, even if his evening resulted in a 1-3 with a run scored and a sacrifice fly. Chris Nowak's 2-4 was mitigated by the fact that one of those hits was an infield single. Kids, you can't trust box scores. Especially in the minor leagues.

The game had all the early signs of a slugfest. At the end of two innings, Durham and Rochester had already combined for eleven hits and five runs. But both starters settled down, and what looked to be a three-hour-plus slog was over in just 2:34. The game was crisply played and without much weirdness, especially compared to last night's antic eleven innings.

Except for this truly weird moment (this is the "Mitch's Mischief" part): In the top of the fourth inning, a man was on first and two were out for Rochester. The Red Wings' hitter, Alexi Casilla, chopped a ball down the first base line. Chris Richard fielded it and stepped on the bag for the third out -- but Casilla was limping like he'd fouled the ball of of his foot, which is how first base umpire Jason Klein called it. The Bulls' bench begged to differ. Charlie Montoyo came out to hear an elaboration, which he presumably got. Then, as he retreated to the dugout, home plate umpire Rob Healey and Mitch Talbot approached the railing in front of the Bulls' dugout. Healey appeared to show the ball to some of the players while Montoyo retook his seat away from the display; meanwhile, Talbot seemed to be showing his pitching hand to some of his other teammates. Was Healey showing a spot on the ball that was besmirched by Casilla's shoe polish, thus proving that Casilla had been hit? Shouldn't Klein, who made the call, have been involved? Why was Talbot over there? Why was he allowed to be over there? Did Talbot's trip and Healey's have anything to do with one another? Wasn't there a ballgame waiting be resumed? What on earth was going on?

The strange delay lasted a solid two or three minutes. With no further explanation, play continued, and -- wouldn't you know it -- Casilla hit the exact same grounder to Chris Richard at first base. Richard stepped on the bag and this time the inning was over.

After the game, I asked Montoyo what had happened. He claimed not to have any idea. (Really? I'm calling bullsh*t on that.) Then I asked John Jaso, the catcher. He smirked -- one of those giveaway, can't-tell-you-the-truth smirks -- and said, "I can't answer that question." Jaso said I'd have to ask Talbot. It was clearly something juicy. Kinky? Gross? I wanted to know. But I didn't see Talbot anywhere, and didn't feel like waiting around for him: The locker room isn't a very comfortable place to be for interlopers, when you get right down to it. So I left it alone.

Apparently, Talbot told another reporter, he'd cut his finger with his own thumbnail while throwing a pitch. Why this prompted a trip to his dugout while the umpire went there too, I have no idea. If he was cut and bleeding, wouldn't Talbot have had the wound treated? The whole thing still makes no sense. I do know this: We were not told the truth, and I can pretty much guarantee you that, even if I ask Talbot about it tomorrow (which I may very well do), he won't tell me what really happened then, either. Baseball is the most artful sport there is, and one of the arts is the art of deception.

Tomorrow's game is at 5:05 p.m. I know it's going to be unseasonably chilly, and I know it may even rain. But David Price is pitching for the Bulls, and if you care about baseball, you should come. The worst thing that happens is that you're out having drinks or dinner early enough to get home and get a good night's sleep. The best thing that happens is that you watch a future hall-of-famer, up close, as he builds his young legend.

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