Durham Bulls clobber Charlotte Knights, clinch playoff spot: Desmond Jennings goes 7-7!

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It has happened twice in the history of major-league baseball. Rennie Stennett of the Pittsburgh Pirates did it in 1975---with someone else's bat, no less---and Wilbert Robinson did it, too, way back in 1892, when balls were made out of the hides of woolly mammoths and bats from the tusks. Seven hits in a nine-inning game. You probably won't see this happen again in your lifetime. And you probably aren't even very old.

Who knows about the International League, which has been around for 126 years? But I'd be willing to bet that Desmond Jennings etched his name into its record books and will stay there for a very long time. He came up seven times last night. He hit six singles and a double.

This is one of those records that requires you to be extraordinarily lucky and very, very good. (In Jennings's case, being very, very fast didn't hurt, either.) The beauty of it was that Jennings did it without overswinging: he hit three ground-ball singles up the middle; two more grounders that were knocked down by the shortstop, who was helpless to throw out the speedy Jennings; a solid line-drive to left; and then an opposite-field drive into the gap for a ninth-inning double. "I just went up there hacking," he is reported to have said. Yeah, sure, Desmond.

It's a very good thing, in retrospect, that the official scorer at Charlotte's ballpark had reversed a call earlier, when he charged Knights shortstop Justin Fuller with an error on one of Jennings's infield grounders. According to Bulls broadcaster Neil Solondz, Fuller had no chance to throw out Jennings. (I believe Solondz's exact words were "You've gotta be kidding me" when the scoreboard flashed E.) A couple of batters later, you could dimly hear the scorer announce the error-to-hit change in the background. Had he not done so then, you'd better believe Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo would have been on the phone to the press box, in high dudgeon, immediately after the game. Fortunately for everyone involved, it didn't come to that.

Oh: guess how many hits the entire Knights team had? Seven.

Oh, also, before I forget---because, believe it or not, there is so much to report tonight that losing track isn't unthinkable---the Bulls clinched a playoff spot with a resounding 14-3 win over the Bristol Sox Charlotte Knights.

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Desmond Jennings (left) was recently out for a few days with a sore quadriceps. He bruised it in a collision with Ray Olmedo while the two were chasing a foul pop at Norfolk last Friday. Jennings had a pair of walks and sacrifice fly in his return on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he went 2-3 with a homer, a triple, two walks and two stolen bases. (Last night he added another theft, his 15th in just 28 games as a Bull.) And then last night's epic achievement. Maybe he should bruise his quad more often. Just kidding. He definitely shouldn't bruise his quad ever again. Jennings raised his average 49 points (!) with last night's meteor shower of hits.

Now: What has to happen for a guy to get seven hits? (Raise your hand, please.) He has to have seven at-bats. That seldomly happens in a nine-inning game. One reason it happened last night was that the Knights are suddenly a scrub team, especially their bullpen. All three of the Chicago White Sox' Class A and AA affiliates, the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Winston-Salem Dash, and the Birmingham Barons, are going to the playoffs. Rather than pluck the best players from those rosters in order to supplement the Knights'---which on Tuesday lost a third of its regulars to the majors and to the Baseball World Cup---the Sox' front office decided to refill Charlotte with non-prospects from Single-A and Double-A in order to give those clubs a fighting chance in the postseason, and with players from their Rookie League teams in Bristol and Inland Empire.

The upshot was that the five pitchers who faced the Bulls last night had a total of 12 Triple-A appearances under their collective belt, and 10 of those were owned by Fernando Hernandez, whom the Bulls saw at the DBAP a week or two ago. One of the matadors thrown into the bullring, Sergio Santos, was a converted shortstop who can throw 309 mph but has no say over where the ball goes; he walked five Bulls in just one inning, and Durham scored six runs. The Bulls walked 12 times overall. It was a slog of a ballgame. But as Neil Solondz put it at one point, with the Bulls up big late, "It's not like football. You can't just take a knee." It was like football, though, in that the Bulls scored a pair of touchdowns and converted the extra points, while holding the Knights to a field goal. The 14-3 score was an appropriate one for the first day of college football. (Sorry, Pack fans.)

Many roster and other notes follow:

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* Rashad Eldridge (left) returned to the Bulls. The speedy outfielder arrived at the ballpark from Montgomery about 90 minutes before game time (good thing he runs so fast!), was informed that he was playing right field, and proceeded to go 4-6 with a walk and two RBIs, plus a stolen base. There have been initial web-wonderings about whether Eldridge's promotion presages Matt Joyce's callup to Tampa Bay, although with Fernando Perez and Jon Weber no longer Bulls, the team had only three outfielders until Eldridge was added to the roster. (I'm actually of the mind that the Rays had a more Bullish plan: giving Charlie Montoyo a fourth outfielder, so he can rest one each day.) But then, B. J. Upton left the Rays' loss to Boston last night with an ankle sprain after a scary-looking outfield collision with Carl Crawford. So Joyce (who sat out yesterday's game with a bruised foot he'd fouled a ball off of) may be headed to Tampa after all---although the Rays do have some solutions to the problem already on the big-league team. (The loss, by the way, which was absorbed by David Price, caused severe tire damage to the Rays' playoff chances. In losing two of three to the Red Sox, Tampa Bay fell six games behind Boston in the wild card race with 29 to play.)

* One of the solutions to the potential Upton problem is Fernando Perez, a.k.a. Mr. Literate, who just published a love letter to poetry in the most famous magazine of verse in America.

* Not only is Wade Davis now up in Tampa, wearing No. 58, apparently (I'm just not able to accept that; he just is No. 33---but that number belongs to the Rays' James Shields), he's been joined by Reid Brignac. Joe Maddon said that Brignac would start one of the Rays' doubleheader games at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Davis, by the way, is now slated to start against Detroit on Sunday, not at New York the following day. Probably just as well.

* Sean Rodriguez, the Player-to-Be-Named-Later in the Scott Kazmir deal, met the team in Charlotte last night and started at second base. He went 1-6 with a two-run double.

* Joe Nelson, who was designated for assignment the day before yesterday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Durham. He brings the pitching staff numbers back up to 11, although that still only includes two true starters. One of them, Jeremy Hellickson, who has been on a roll lately, starts at Charlotte on Friday. Rayner Oliveros gets the nod at home against Norfolk on Saturday; Sunday is still unclaimed. (If you aren't busy that day and can throw a decent changeup, contact mbirling@durhambulls.com.) You have to think that the Rays will send someone in, but it's also possible that Heath Rollins, who relieved in his first appearance for the Bulls on Tuesday but can also start, will take the ball that day. Who knows?

* That reminds me to congratulate Calvin Medlock and Joe Bateman, who collaborated last night on another good tag-team start (here was the first) in place of... Carlos Hernandez, maybe? I'm not sure anymore, to be honest; but regardless of who he was replacing, Medlock set a personal season-high pitch total (77) and strikeout mark; he K'd an uncharacteristically Hellicksonian nine batters in just 4 2/3 innings. He gave up three runs---all of them via two homers (one a cheapie) surrendered to Stefan Gartrell---but Medlock's work kept the Bulls in a game that was actually close for six innings. Bateman added 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out five more Knights. Dale Thayer chipped in a 15th team strikeout during a tune-up inning in the ninth. I wouldn't get too excited about that high K total, though, considering the competition.

* Speaking of sh*t tons of strikeouts, after Justin Ruggiano fanned for the second time in the game, I was inspired to see what kind of progress he was making in his pursuit of the International League's 2009 K-krown. Toledo's Mike Hessman has been the leader all season long, but a few weeks ago Ruggiano had narrowed the gap to about a dozen whiffs. Hessman has rallied though: he's extended his lead back out to 20 and is now pretty much a lock. I happened to notice that the Mud Hens have four of the five strike-outiest "hitters" in the league. Hessman, Wilkin Rodriguez, Brent Dlugach (who is an All-Star) and Brent Clevlen have combined to strike out 581 times this season. The entire Columbus Clippers team has 751.

* Speaking of players with frightening statistics, Jorge Julio, who was released by the Rays about a month ago, latched on with Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to Indianapolis. My guess is that he's only filling the roster spot vacated by Brad Lincoln, who left to pitch for Team USA (Jason Childers tossed a scoreless inning in an exhibition game last night), and that Julio gets released, yet again, on Monday, when the International League season ends. The Pirates are Julio's 11th (!) team, and his ninth in the last four seasons.

***

After last night's game, the Knights Stadium PA system played Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as exit music. Either by "tomorrow" they meant next year---Charlotte's been out of contention for a while now---or the sound board op was sending one out to the visiting team, whose tomorrows have now officially been extended at least four more days. Congrats to the playoff-bound Bulls, especially to players like Ruggiano, Julio DePaula, Ray Olmedo, John Jaso, who rode out the topsy-turvy year from day one to the end. Extra congrats are due the coaching staff and Charlie Montoyo, who kept the ship afloat no matter who was on board or how rough the seas.

Gwinnett lost at Norfolk, 3-2, thanks largely to a two-run homer by---guess who?---former Bull Rhyne Hughes (aww, Rhyne! You shouldn't have!). That gave Durham a two-game lead with four to play. If the Bulls win the South Division, they'll play West Division champion Louisville in the first round of the playoffs; if they're the wild card, they get the North Division winner, very likely to be Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Some folks are pulling for the wild card on the theory that the tougher draw is Louisville, which owns the league's best record and has been coasting for weeks now in the Mild West. Me, I'd rather see the Bulls finish strong, claim the division crown, and then go head to head with the Bats. Like the man says: If you're gonna be the be the best, you gotta beat the best.

Besides, Gwinnett belongs in second place anyway.

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