by Adam Sobsey
DBAP/ DURHAM---For most of tonight's wild game, which Durham won 13-9 in 11 innings, I couldn't think where I'd begin my report later. The game took 3:45 to play but didn't seem all that long because it was thoroughly packed with action, so much as to bewilder a journalist who is only in his fifth week as a daily baseball writer.
Fortunately, Chris Richard (pictured, left) solved my problem: He hit TWO GRAND SLAMS IN ONE GAME.
Just to emphasize how rare this is, it has happened 12 times in the history of the major leagues (no information was readily available about the minors). For comparison, dozens of players have hit two inside-the-park homers in one game, and inside-the-park homers are rarer than grand slams. There have been 17 perfect games pitched in major-league history. The only thing more freakish, among freakish things I could think of, is unassisted triple plays: eight all-time.
The Bulls' official scorer, Brent Belvin, has been at every game at the DBAP since it opened in 1995. He said he'd never seen two grand slams in a game here.
(Possible Headline: "CHRIS RICHARD IS JUST LIKE YOU AND ME: HE HAS TWO GRANNIES.")
And as manager Charlie Montoyo reminded me when I spoke with him after the game, "they were both big." Durham trailed 8-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bulls' starter James Houser had been lit up for seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings, throwing 73 pitches (only 38 for strikes). Four of those runs were unearned because of Houser's own fielding error on a play that could just as easily have been scored a hit -- especially had Houser not made the play look harder than it really was by falling on his a** after failing to field Wilkin Castillo's tapper near the mound. (Possible headline: "BATS CONDEMN HOUSER.") When I asked Montoyo about Houser's performance tonight, he tried to mask his visible disgust by giving the old "consistency" explanation.
Up five runs, Louisville reliever Pedro Viola walked the bases loaded in the Bulls' half of the eighth. By the time Chris Richard stepped in to hit, Viola had already thrown 24 pitches in the inning, only nine for strikes. He threw another ball to Richard, and then decided to go ahead and throw his 10th strike. Bad idea. Richard crushed it over the right-field wall. 8-7. (Possible headline: "RICHARD PLAYS VIOLA.")
Down to their final strike, the Bulls tied it in the last of the ninth on a Jon Weber double that scored Chris Nowak, who had been hit by a pitch. On the very next pitch after Weber's double, Reid Brignac singled to center. Charlie Montoyo did the right thing by waving Weber home with what could have been the game-winning run, even though Brignac's single was sharply hit and Louisville center fielder Drew Stubbs charged it aggressively. Stubbs made a one-hop throw to home plate that beat Weber by several feet. Louisville catcher Wilkin Castillo made a superb catch of the awkward in-between hop, just in time to turn to his left and get bowled over by the hard-charging Weber, who barreled into Castillo shoulder-first -- a clean, hard play. Castillo held onto the ball and Weber was out. (Possible headline: "WEBER GRILLED.")
Extra innings. The Bats' Kevin Barker led off the top of the tenth for Louisville against the Bulls' Winston Abreu. Barker is a journeyman with 231 career minor-league home runs over thirteen seasons, and a half-dozen dingers in the majors. With all of the momentum on the Bulls' side now, I turned to Dave Levine, the Bulls' Total Cast Operator -- I usually sit next to him -- and asked, very suggestively: "You think Kevin Barker hits a go-ahead homer here?"
Seven pitches later, he did. (Possible headline: "BARKER SMOKES WINSTON." Alternate possible headline: "I REMAIN PSYCHIC." Oh, wait, I used that one.)
The Bulls got the run back in bizarre fashion in the bottom of the inning. The Roodge (1-3, double -- got picked off second base after the double (lame!) but gets to remain The Roodge by drawing three walks) walked to lead off, of course. Richard came up, and on a 2-1 pitch hit a foul pop behind home plate. With fans screaming for Wilkin Castillo not to catch it -- sorry, but the guy pretty much always catches it despite the exhortations -- Castillo dropped it. (Possible headline: "WILKIN LOSES BALL IN WELKIN.") So on the next pitch, naturally, Richard hit a broken-bat single to right. Then newly-acquired Joe Dillon, playing first base tonight to spell Richard (Richard was in the lineup as designated hitter -- and gave a textbook freaking example of how you designatedly hit), Dillon poked a single to right, and Ruggiano scored an unearned run thanks to Castillo's error. Of my next possible headline, all I can say is: Why didn't Dillon hit a double (for my awesome possible headline: "DOUBLE DILLON")?
(Aside: Due to the weird little rules that govern earned/unearned runs, a statistical freak occurrence, uh, occurred tonight: The Bulls' Dewon Day, relieving Houser in the fourth inning, gave up a run that was unearned for the team but earned for Day. Possible headline: "STRANGE DAY INDEED.")
(Aside #2: In case you thought Richard was perfect, he did a very stupid thing after Dillon's game-tying single: He moved too far toward third on Ray Olmedo's one-out liner to center, and was doubled up by Stubbs to end the inning. Possible headline: "POOR RICHARD.")
With one out in the last of the 11th, Louisville reliever Robert Manuel walked John Jaso, who had pinch-hit for catcher Craig Albernaz in the 9th and then stayed in the game. (Louisville pitchers walked eight Bulls overall.) That brought up Weber, who has a knack for finding -- or creating -- the hot spot, and then rolling around in it. With a 1-1 count, Manuel threw a pitch that home plate umpire Mark Lollo called a strike. Weber thought otherwise, and b*tched extravagantly about it to Lollo. (Weber's the most querulous hitter I've ever seen, constantly jawing with umpires.) Manuel's next pitch was a, er, Lollo-pop curveball that forgot to break, and it hit Weber -- thwock! -- in the back of his helmet as the, er, Web, tried to, er, spin out of the way. He went down but was fine. (After the game, Montoyo made the inevitable joke: "Jon's pretty hard-headed." In all seriousness, though, in re: Weber's intransigence, Montoyo said: "Wherever he goes, he wins." That includes off-season action in Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. Nice piece about Weber here.)
Anyway, Weber took his base -- the second hit batsman of the game for Durham -- (possible headline; "WEBER DRILLED" -- ah, never mind) and then Manuel walked Reid Brignac. (Possible headline: "MANUEL KANT." There, I'm a book critic.) The Roodge flied to center for the second out and Louisville manager Rick Sweet replaced Manuel with Ben Jukich to set up a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Chris Richard. ("Against lefties, I have to stay real short on my swing," Richard thoughtfully explained after the game.) The sacks were now F.O.B. I turned to Dave Levine and said -- you can ask him if you don't believe me -- "And Chris Richard hits his second grand slam of the night to give the Bulls a 13-9 win."
On the fourth pitch, he did.
Told you I was psychic.
A few minutes after that, of course, at about 11:00 p.m., commenced Fireworks Night at the DBAP.
That seemed like the appropriate headline.
* With the win, the Bulls took three of four from Louisville. Durham had split its previous five series.
* Matt Joyce missed his second straight game with a tight hamstring. Montoyo said Joyce would play tonight.
* Elliot Johnson is out indefinitely with a broken hand. According to Montoyo, he was hit by a pitch during batting practice recently.
* Much more glumly, word came today that Mike Potter, the Bulls beat writer for the Durham Herald-Sun, was unceremoniously let go yesterday, the latest casualty in the war of attrition that is decimating the paper. Potter had been with the Herald-Sun for over two decades, and he was the much-loved official beat-writer of the Durham Bulls. His professionalism, intelligence and good humor will be very sorely missed. Good luck wishes to Potter from the Indy.
With five weeks' experience, I am now the senior member of the Durham Bulls media corps. Yipes.
See you tomorrow at the DBAP.