by Adam Sobsey
I had plans last night and stopped listening to the Durham Bulls' radio broadcast with the Bulls leading Syracuse, 5-0, in the seventh inning. Matt Joyce hit a grand slam in the first inning and Bulls' starter Jeremy Hellickson was cruising, having allowed just a single baserunner. The Bulls seemed well on their way to an easy win on getaway day.
I should have known better. Hellickson allowed a two-out, three-run homer to Seth Bynum in the bottom of the seventh---long balls are his one obvious weakness so far---and gave the Chiefs life. The Bulls added a run to their lead in the next inning on a passed ball, but not before Syracuse outfielder Justin Maxwell got ejected, the second time he's been tossed from a game versus the Bulls this year. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, his ejection had to do with the last out of the seventh inning, on which Maxwell grounded out to third base and protested the call at first. Manager Tim Foli joined him in the dispute and in the clubhouse. Must have been a fun argument to watch. I hope I never make Justin Maxwell mad.
Sometimes ejections light a fire under a team, and in this case Jason Childers had a gasoline can with him when he came on to replace Hellickson in the eighth inning. With a 6-3 Bulls lead, Childers faced four batters and retired none of them. It went: triple, double, single, single, Dale Thayer. Thayer got charged with a blown save when he allowed a game-tying sacrifice fly to Daryle Ward. (This is, by the way, a ridiculous rule. All Thayer did was retire all three men he faced in order, but it's he, rather than Childers (who put the man on third base), whose stats take a hit.)
Anyway, the Bulls scored three more runs in the top of the ninth. Shawn Riggans had a two-run double and Michel Hernandez added his third sacrifice fly in two days. Winston Abreu, suddenly Sandman again, eliminated a one-out walk with a double play, and this one goes in the win column, 9-6. Deep breath.
The Bulls now have a 3.5-game lead over Syracuse in the wild-card chase. A couple of quick notes follow.
The Bulls could have blown this one wide open (or, well, opener, since they already led 5-0 late) but left the bases loaded in the seventh when Matt Joyce grounded out. He can be forgiven for that, since he'd hit a grand slam in the first, but still. In the next inning, the Bulls put men on second and third with one out but Desmond Jennings grounded out, failing to score a run, and Reid Brignac, who went 0-5, struck out. The Bulls needed a passed ball to score what would become an important run psychologically, as it kept the Chiefs from taking the lead in the bottom of the inning when they put up a three-spot.
Jennings had a schizy game, driving in the Bulls' fifth run early, but also twice failing to score runners from third with one out. Overall, the Bulls were 3/13 with RISP. That's a familiar theme, no?
Not sure what to tell you about Jason Childers. In Durham last week, he'd mentioned a mechanical problem with his delivery, and the result was that he couldn't throw his fastball for strikes. We'll see if he fixes the problem. If he doesn't, the Bulls' most frequent fireman (Childers leads the team in appearances) will have gone up the pole, and Charlie Montoyo will have no choice but to start using Calvin Medlock in higher-leverage situations. Childers has allowed runs to score in seven of his last eight outings, and his ERA has gone from 3.86 to 4.58.
It's potluck night for the Bulls tonight in Norfolk. Jeff Bennett gets his second start for Durham, and should be able to go a bit longer than he did at the DBAP, when he was restricted to less than 70 pitches. After Bennett, look for some combination of Medlock, Julio DePaula and a team of telephone sanitizers. If the Bulls can win, say two of three at Norfolk, they'll pretty much wash the Tides out of contention and tighten their grip on a post-season berth.