by Adam Sobsey
I happened to listen to some of the radio broadcast of the Bulls' 5-4 win over Pawtucket on Sunday. Actually, I discovered that you can listen to the broadcast in the privacy of your own internet connection via the Minor League Baseball web site. The advantage of the internet feed over the 99.9 FM broadcast is profound: no between-inning ads! You just hear faint ambient ballpark noise while Neil Solondz, the Bulls' broadcaster, takes a break.
From the sound of it, Sunday's game must have been a thriller.
The Bulls led 1-0 heading into the last of seventh, having dodged trouble in the sixth, when Jon Weber dropped a leadoff fly ball by Pawtucket's Freddy Guzman, who ended up on second base. Guzman had gotten himself picked off of second base in the third inning by catcher Craig Albernaz (playing, as Solondz repeated several times, just 20 minutes away from his hometown of Fall River, Mass.). Apparently, Guzman decided to unburden the Bulls of the weight of making their daily stupid baserunning mistake.
The Bulls pitched around Weber's miscue, although Charlie Montoyo had to make a pitching change to protect the lead: starter Matt DeSalvo's pitch count had crept up toward 100, and Joe Bateman came on. Bateman deftly escaped trouble in the sixth, but in the seventh he hit the first batter he faced and walked the next.
Joe Bateman (pictured at top) is a skinny, sidearming righty. He reminds me of former Yankees and Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson. He's not as tall as Nelson, and his arm slot is lower, but he throws a similar "frisbee" slider, as the Yankees' broadcasters dubbed Nelson's pitch (it veers sharply off to the left as it approaches the plate), and a sort of fishhook fastball that tweaks to the right as it nears the batter. Bateman has been very effective for the Bulls since his callup a few weeks ago. He has allowed only seven hits in 15 1/3 innings and has struck out 13. His live-arm durability has made him a regular figure on the mound for the Bulls: Charlie Montoyo calls on him often.
Bateman's weakness has been his control. He has walked eight men in those 15+ innings, and compounded that wildness by hitting five more. (The rest of the Bulls' pitching staff has hit only 16 batters in nearly 500 innings.) So it wasn't exactly a surprise that he got himself in trouble with one of each in the seventh. Bateman made a fine play right afterward, fielding a sacrifice bunt attempt and throwing out the lead runner at third base. Then he got a flyout to centerfield for the second out.
The next batter was Freddy Guzman, who hit a little dying quail that fell into shallow right field for a run-scoring double. "Tough, tough break for Bateman," moaned Neil Solondz. But of course Bateman had set up his tough break by putting the first two batters on base.
It makes a fair amount of sense to me that Bateman, who cancels out his walks and hit batters by allowing few hits and striking out almost a batter per inning, does not appear on the Bulls' official online roster. He's canceled himself out, too.
With the game now tied 1-1, Charlie Montoyo replaced Bateman with one of his two bullpen aces, Dale Thayer. That's when I had to turn off the game. I know that Thayer walked the first man he faced and then gave up a three-run double to Travis Denker, but I don't know if the double was another heartbreaking bleeder or a booming cannon-shot. Two things are sure: it was Thayer's second straight unsuccessful outing, and the Bulls trailed 4-1.
That's when the comeback kids returned. The Bulls scored four times in the top of the ninth to regain the lead. They got a reciprocal hit batsman (John Jaso took the lump); a sacrifice fly from Weber, who had dropped Guzman's fly ball earlier (Weber hit his sac-fly to Guzman, of course); a hustle play by Chris Richard, who convinced his still-tight hamstring to help him leg out the back end of a potential inning-ending double play; and a crucial fielding error by Denker, who had given the Sox their lead two innings earlier but allowed the tying run to score by misplaying Ray Sadler's grounder.
In the last of the ninth, Winston Abreu walked two PawSox, and Brandon Chaves saved a base hit with a leaping catch of Freddy Guzman's liner. With two outs and the tying run on second base, Abreu struck out (natch) Travis Denker to save the game for Calvin Medlock, who pitched the eighth inning and got his first win in his 2009 Bulls debut.
So where did the Bulls come out in the karmic ledger? It's almost impossible to say. They made mistakes; they atoned for them. They had bad luck; they received good luck. They committed errors, or things like errors; and the PawSox made errors in return. It would be nice to think that the whole thing summed to zero, so that the intrepid, fire-walking Bulls---who are now tied with Norfolk for International League South Division lead---can start with a clean slate for Monday's game. Wade Davis takes the mound, and the chances, for Durham.