They struck out twice in the first and thrice in the ninth, and in between they struck out six more times and grounded out 147 times, and the upshot is that the Bulls got shut out, 1-0, by a pitcher they'd hammered for six runs in 6 1/3 innings less than two weeks ago at the DBAP.
Remember, this is AAA baseball: development, adjustments, learning, improvements: I didn't see or hear this game, but clearly Jonathan Niese, a top New York Mets prospect, was much better than he was when the Bulls got happy on him on June 1. And even then, despite his struggles, he showed evidence of quality, walking one and striking out six and throwing two thirds of his pitches for strikes. On Friday, he put it all together. The Bulls struck out a whole lot and managed just three hits all night against Niese and 38-year-old closer Elmer Dessens. When that happens, your pitching has to be flawless; unfortunately, it was merely almost flawless.
The Bulls don't quit, though. They loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth for Justin Ruggiano, who was robbed of a hit that would have given Durham the lead: his liner was caught by leaping first baseman Wily Mo Pena to end the inning. Yes, Velma, I'm thinking what you're thinking: Wily Mo Pena can leap?
Jason Cromer (1-2) was the hard-luck loser for Durham, and get this: the Bulls lost their third straight game for the first time this season. They have played 61 games. Sure, their offense is a good deal less potent these days (newly-acquired/demoted Matt Joyce wasn't in the lineup); granted, their pitching has taken a hit with David Price and Randy Choate gone to Tampa; but this team is nothing if not resilient. They battle; they're hard to subdue; they're, well, Bullish---and still tied for first place in the International League South Division. That's a credit to manager Charlie Montoyo, who puts his team in a position to win nearly every time out, it seems. And some part of me can't help thinking that if Jon Weber (scheduled day off) or Chris Richard (hamstring) had been in the lineup, this game might have ended differently.
Reliever Jorge Julio pitched a scoreless seventh in his Bulls debut, although he allowed a hit and a walk. Winston Abreu gave up two hits in a scoreless ninth, but he also struck out two Bisons. Abreu's line for the season is 32 IP, 14 hits, 10 walks, 49 strikeouts. There's a good Indonesian expression for such stuff: Wah-duh! That means something along the lines of, "Oh my goodness to holy sh*t!" Wah-duh, Winston! Or, in Spanish: Que chingon!
Matt DeSalvo is on the hill for Durham on Saturday. The Bulls are 2-4 on the current road trip. Wouldn't it be great if they could win the next two and come home with an unlikely split?