by Mike Potter
DBAP/DURHAM It's the finale of the short three-game homestand between the Durham Bulls and the Gwinnett Braves, and since each has won one it's the "rubber game" of the series.
It's my last night in a three-game callup to pinch-hit for Adam.
The Bulls lead the International League's South Division by a scant one game over the second-place Norfolk Tides, and a Norfolk win plus a Durham loss would put the league's only Virginia team in first place by percentage points.
Good news for Bulls reliever Dale Thayer (pictured), who has been selected to the IL roster for the Triple-A All-Star Game to replace Pawtucket phenom Clay Buchholz and will be headed to baseball's biggest game of that day for the second straight year. No explanation on why Buchholz isn't going, but from where I sit the legitimate ones are either an upcoming stint on the DL or an impending promotion.
Anyway, he'll be joining teammate Reid Brignac for the festivities on Wednesday night in Portland.
There's a great crowd in the house for a non-weekend night.
The buffet is chicken tenders and fries and the media contingent is still a big larger than usual since Bob Sutton of the Burlington Times-News is in the house.
And baseball sometimes fools you. Gwinnett leads 8-1 going into the ninth and it ends up 8-6 as Chris Richard strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game.
Now here's how it goes down:
Gwinnett scores a run in the second as Brandon Jones leads off by reaching on an infield hit off Matt DeSalvo and later scores on a throwing error by Richard at first.
In the Braves' third, Wes Timmons reaches on a fielder's choice with one out and scores on Kelly Johnson's triple.
And then in the fourth, the wheels completely come off for the Bulls. Chris Burke leads off by rocketing a 2-1 pitch over the Blue Monster wall in left, and then J.C. Holt adds the second run by walking, advancing on a wild pitch, stealing third and then coming home on John Jaso's throwing error. DeSalvo gets two outs, but they're not done. Reid Gorecki singles and Timmons hits an RBI double to left to chase the starter. Jones draws a walk off reliever James Houser, and then Barbaro Canizares puts a monster shot onto the second level of the Diamond View II building in left and it's 8-0.
The Bulls get their only run before the ninth inning in the seventh, when Justin Ruggiano leads off with a single to center and scores on Rhyne Hughes' infield hit to the mound.
In the ninth, the Bulls score their five runs on four singles, three walks, a sacrifice fly and a hit by pitch. The rally ends when Juan Perez strikes out Richard swinging with the bases loaded.
Here's what they said ...
Bulls skipper Charlie Montoyo: "We never quit, and I'm really proud of the guys. Any other team could quit, but we're down by seven and bring the winning run to first base. ... (DeSalvo) needs to make an adjustment and throw strikes. He's just not doing the job. ... Thayer earned (the all-star invitation) and he deserved it. He's our man, our closer. He's one of the big reasons we are where we are."
Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage: "I think it's a league rule - you have to bring the tying run to the plate no matter what the score is, and we did even a little better for them. You'd think when you're up 8-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, you're a little bit safe."
Thayer: "Mike (general manager Birling) called me today and I was pretty excited. Now I can go see my family - my wife (Lisa) and our 8 ½-month-old twins (Charlotte and Haley) can fly up pretty quick and see me."
What does it all mean?
That because it was coupled with a Norfolk loss at Charlotte, the Bulls still have their one-game lead headed into their pre-All-Star break road trip.
Stars of the game
1. Gwinnett starter Bobby Brownlie, for his one run allowed in seven innings.
2. Canizares, for his three-run homer and a double.
3. Burke, for his solo shot and the single.
Play of the game
Bulls lead 8-6.
Durham: Lost 2.
Gwinnett: Won 2.
Bulls at Norfolk, Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Wade Davis (right, 8-4, 2.83) vs. Andy Mitchell (right, 6-2, 3.76)
Gwinnett at Charlotte, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Jonny Venters (left, 0-2, 6.35) vs. Lucas Harrell (right, 0-1, 5.73)