by Mike Potter
The place has undergone a $20 million renovation since last season, with a revamped entry plaza, a massive new video board inside the left-field “Blue Monster” and a huge club-level lounge behind home plate.
Manager Charlie Montoyo is back for his eighth season as the Bulls begin defense of their Governors’ Cup title against the South Division rival Gwinnett Braves. Gwinnett is managed for the first time by Brian Snitker, who was Durham’s Class A skipper in 1983-84 and ’87.
Nathan Karns (10-6, 3.26 at Harrisburg last season) will go against Gwinnett’s Gavin Floyd (0-4, 5.18) who is here on Major League rehab.
And the Bulls turn out to be up to the task tonight, recovering from a four-run deficit to nip the visitors 7-6.
The Braves get to Karns for three runs in the first. Jose Constanza draws a leadoff walk, followed by a one-out walk to Joey Terdoslavich before Ernesto Mejia deposits an 0-2 offering into the bleachers in right.
The Bulls run Floyd in the second. Smithfield-Selma product Jerry Sands draws a leadoff walk before Kevin Kiermaier launches a 1-0 pitch onto the berm in left center. Snitker goes to get the starter with one out and one on, with Yunesky Maya coming on in relief.
Gwinnett tacks on three more and runs Karns in the third. The highlights of that one are RBI singles from Terdoslavich and Mark Hamilton as the Braves bat around and make it 6-3.
But the Bulls keep fighting back. In the fourth, Sands leads off with a double and scores when Ali Solis reaches on a two-out error.
And in the fifth, the Bulls run Maya as Cole Figueroa hits a leadoff double before Wilson Betemit launches a monster shot to right on a 2-1 pitch to make it 6-5. Sands then greets Luis Vasquez, tying it by blasting a 1-0 offering into the right-field stands.
Durham gets the winner in the seventh as Figueroa leads off with a walk, advances on a Mark Lamm wild pitch and scores on Sands’ single.
Sands finishes with the homer, double and single and scores three runs to lead the Bulls.
Former Carolina Mudcat Brad Boxberger picks up the victory and Kirby Yates gets the save.
They said it …
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo: “That two-run homer (from Betemit) was big. He’s a great hitter, so he’s going to hit. But the one I really liked was Sands. If he comes through he’s going to help us a lot. He’s got a history of hitting. He struggled last year at Indy, but I know he likes playing here.”
Sands: “I hit really well here last year, actually, both in the regular season and when we (Indianapolis) lost in the playoffs. I’ve enjoyed my time playing here. Last year was a season I’m trying to put behind me, but I want to keep it fresh to not get in the same ruts and not do the same things I did last year. It’s good to start off strong, and hopefully I can continue it.”
Kiermaier: “I thought the ball had bounced off the wall (on the homer). It was a relief when I got to third and saw Charlie (giving the home-run sign). I got a good pitch to hit and found the barrel pretty good. It was a good way to start the season.”
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Bulls (Enny Romero 9-10, 3.24 at Tampa Bay) vs. Gwinnett (Ervin Santana 11-7, 2.76 at Mississippi), Friday, 7:05 p.m.