by Adam Sobsey
DBAP/ DURHAM---I had a bunch of really nice tomatoes that I got at the farmers' market on Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon I made a sauce out of them that I planned to poach some fish in on Monday. Maybe some Spanish Mackerel. The sauce had mint in it, some young garlic, a little fresh cayenne. Simple, but really tasty.
After I was done with the sauce, I went to last night's ballgame at the DBAP. When I got there, I realized I'd left my voice recorder thingy at home. Oh, well.
In the fourth inning of the game, I had one of those uh-oh moments.
The Indians had jumped on Durham starter Wade Davis---they hit three homers and two doubles off of him---and led 4-0 after three innings, but the Bulls began the last of the fourth with three straight singles off of the highly regarded Indianapolis pitcher Brad Lincoln. Two of those hits were little loopers, but of course loopers count. With the bases F.O.B., Chris Richard flew out to shallow center field for the first out of the inning. To the plate stepped Rhyne Hughes, the Bulls' hottest hitter over the last ten games.
Here's the uh-oh moment: Hughes hit a towering fly ball to deep left-center field. From where we sat in the press box, it looked very obvious that the ball would at least hit the Blue Monster if not clear it, and Hughes would either have a three-run double or a grand slam. But Justin Ruggiano, who had been on first base, must not have seen the ball well, because he hung around between first and second waiting to see the outcome of Hughes's hit.
The ball hit high off the Monster in left-center field---had it been hit about 15 feet to the right, it would have avoided the Monster and been a homer---and Hughes had a double, extending his hitting streak to 10 games (which matches the longest by a Bull this season). Reid Brignac and Jon Weber scored, but Ruggiano had to stop at third base. It was 4-2 now, but it should have been 4-3. Elliot Johnson struck out and John Jaso grounded to third, Ruggiano was stranded, and the inning was over.
I thought to myself, I hope that doesn't end up the difference in the game.
Guess what? It was the difference in the game.
Baseball is a famously intricate game---go ahead, say it: of inches---and it's not often that a single play is responsible for the outcome; things that happen early are usually rendered irrelevant by the late innings. Anyway, it would be uncharitable---and frankly wrong---to blame Ruggiano for the loss. He went 3-4 with a pair of doubles, one of which scored the Bulls' third run. But as last night's game wore on, Ruggiano's failure to get home on Hughes's hit loomed larger and larger.
It got especially huge in the bottom of the seventh inning. At this point I was watching with some friends of mine in the stands. The score was now 5-4, Indians, and their new reliever, Mike Koplove, issued a leadoff walk to John Jaso. The next batter, Henry Mateo, got a misplaced fastball from Koplove, and he smoked it to straightaway center field. The Indians' Jose Tabata probably got a bad read on it--- any ballplayer can tell you that the hardest ball to judge is the one hit right at you---but in any case he decided to do something like a Manny Ramirez imitation. He kind of watched the ball for a second or two, then took a few lazy strides back and waved indifferently at it as it sailed over his head and went all the way to the wall for an RBI triple.
Man on third, no one out. Bulls down by one. Indians bring the infield in.
Anything hit to the medium outfield should score the tying run.
Anything punched through the infield scores the tying run.
Chopper anywhere in the diamond scores the tying run.
Wild pitch, passed ball: tying run. Balk: tying run.
(Try not to think about how the score should already be tied.)
(Whoops, just thought about it.)
Desmond Jennings falls behind. Works the count to 2-2. Then grounds out to short. Mateo has to hold.
Reid Brignac falls behind 1-2. Grounds to first. Mateo has to hold.
Infield back to normal depth.
Jon Weber comes up. Jon Weber's King Kong music+video come on the PA system and the big screen. Crowd gets into it. Crowd gets into it partly because, in the top of the inning, Weber made a running, body-launching, full-extension, highlight-reel catch of Brian Myrow's bid for extra bases. It was a totally out-of-character play for Weber, who sprints with tiny, chugging strides, like a Mario Brother. After the game, Charlie Montoyo kind of jestingly busted on Weber's stubby pursuit of the ball, grinning.
Now Weber comes up half an inning after his stellar catch with a chance to tie the game. It is a Weber moment. It should have a tm symbol next to it. Weber is the Bulls' best clutch hitter.
Weber smacks the first pitch: Whap! It's a two-hopper right to the second baseman. Weber is thrown out at first.
I'm thinking at this point: What if Ruggiano had scored on Hughes's hit? We'd be tied and the failure to drive Mateo home from third wouldn't seem like such a big deal (though still a big deal). There wouldn't be that gnawing in the stomach over opportunities left undevoured on the table.
I'm also thinking: What happened to my Media Pass? I notice that it's no longer attached to the lanyard I wear around my neck. The lanyard hangs forlorn, bereft, Pass-less, like the remnant work of a cutpurse. My friends and I look around for it. But it's gone.
Bulls don't score again. Game over.
"Our situational hitting wasn't very good," Charlie Montoyo said after the game. I made sure to write it down because I'd left my voice recorder thingy at home.
Also the situational baserunning, I thought to myself. Didn't feel like asking Montoyo what he thought. Somehow it's twisting the knife.
And it's not just Ruggiano failing to score on Hughes's double. The Bulls had other close calls. Chris Richard, who is in a mini-slump (4 for his last 27, all singles; Charlie Montoyo said he'd probably get Monday off), got a couple of millimeters under a pitch in the eighth inning and flied to right. Hughes followed by missing a pitch by even less---say, 1.5 millimeters---and flied out to deep center field. Back in the sixth, the Bulls had stranded Ruggiano on second base after he doubled Weber home with no one out.
My voice recorder? My Media Pass?
It was a double shame the Bulls couldn't come back, because after Wade Davis struggled, allowing all five Indianapolis runs in 5 2/3 laborious innings (109 pitches!), Jorge Julio and Joe Bateman tossed 3 1/3 scoreless to give the Bulls a chance to come back. Julio even sacrificed his body for the team, taking a comebacker off what appeared to be either his arm or rib cage in the eighth. He recovered to field the ball on the first base side of the mound and threw out the hitter. Then he walked directly into the dugout: I'm done; don't even bother sending out the trainer (no, I don't really believe that Jorge Julio thinks with semi-colons). No word on whether Julio is seriously hurt. Charlie Montoyo didn't seem to think so. In any case, Joe Nelson, who was just demoted from Tampa, arrives in the next day or so, and it's hard to imagine a player likelier to be let go than Julio, even though he dropped his ERA back under 6.00 with six scoreless outs last night.
I go back up to the Press Box after the game and there is my Media Pass on the floor, right under the long desk where I sit. The eye/hook part of the lanyard has a tendency to catch on the underside of the desk. That's what must have happened; the Pass popped off the lanyard. I hook it back on.
Neil Walker went 3-3 against Wade Davis with two doubles, one of which drove in two runs. (Here is an amazing story about Walker's father.) Walker homered off of Davis at Indianapolis a week and a half ago. It sort of felt like the Indians had seen what they needed to see from Davis in that game, in which Davis pitched very well, and were ready for him this time. He threw fastballs---a much higher percentage of them, it seemed to me, than the last couple of times I saw him---and the Indians whacked them (except Tagg Bozied, who went 0-4 with four strikeouts). Davis shrugged it all off, as he always does. It isn't that he doesn't care. He does, a lot. He's a fierce competitor and he battled last night. It's just that he doesn't dwell on games like this one. He doesn't dwell on any games, really. A couple of months ago, Davis struck out 13 Toledo batters in six innings. We told him after the game that he'd set a Triple-A record for the Bulls and he said: "Cool."
Last night after the game, Montoyo said of Davis: "He got hit today. That's all I can say about it."
Montoyo also said: "We just lost."
I wrote that down, too. Not like I'd forget, but still.
I went to my car and found my voice recorder sitting on the passenger seat.
I happened to drive back by the DBAP about three hours later. The lights were still on, and I thought again of Ruggiano not scoring on Hughes's double in the fourth inning. I was sort of hoping to forget about it.
When I got home, I discovered that I'd left the burner on under the tomato sauce and it was blackened to a crisp.