Durham Bulls hang on to edge Louisville Bats, take 2-1 lead in International League playoff series | Sports

Durham Bulls hang on to edge Louisville Bats, take 2-1 lead in International League playoff series

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Luck. Did it even itself out last night in the Bulls' achingly difficult, teeth-gnashing 4-3 win at Louisville? The Bulls scored all four of their runs in the fourth inning with help from two walks and two singles that might easily have been outs: they weren't hit hard. Down 4-1, the Bats chipped away, scoring a run on a Yonder Alonso homer in the sixth inning off of Jason Cromer (it was disputed by Justin Ruggiano, who claimed that the ball hadn't cleared the wall but had been interfered with by a fan), and then getting a pair of cheap infield hits by Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco to push across their third run in the seventh off of Joe Bateman, who pitched well and can be faulted only for a leadoff walk, really. The rest was just rotten luck. Note, however, that Cromer, who has earned the nickname "The Strandman" from the folks at Draysbay, allowed none of the seven men who reached against him to score, save the two guys who hit homers. Over 115+ Triple-A innings, opponents are hitting .155 against Comer with runners in scoring position. With RISP and two outs, .085. Wow.

Julio DePaula did a good job of stranding a leadoff single in the eighth. In the top of the ninth, Justin Ruggiano singled (it was his third hit of the game) and took off for second on a pitch to Elliot Johnson, which Johnson hit to center field. Chris Heisey came on and made a good running catch; he fired to first to nail Ruggiano for an (un)lucky double play. That twin-killing loomed large when Michel Hernandez followed with a double to right that might have scored Ruggiano from first. Henry Mateo then smacked a line drive near first base, and Yonder Alonso made a nice grab to end the inning. Luck.

Winston Abreu came on in the ninth and fanned Heisey and Jay Bruce on six pitches. He got Frazier down in the count 0-2 before Frazier reached on an infield single, his second in two innings. Then Juan Francisco fell behind 0-2 before he reached on another infield single, his second in two innings, dribbling one down the first base line and simply getting lucky that it was timed so that he managed to elude Joe Dillon's tag.

It seemed as if fortune was simply favoring Louisville. Chris Valaika stepped in---and he, too, had had an infield single the night before in Durham, driving in the Bats' fifth run---but this time Abreu finished the job, getting a swinging strikeout from Valaika and earning a save while giving Cromer a well-deserved win. The Bulls are a victory away from winning the series.

If they're to win it on Saturday, they'll have to do it behind Rayner Oliveros, who has made all of two appearances for Durham, one good, one eh, since his callup from Double-A Montgomery in late August. Oliveros spent over four months in the Southern League this season, but missed pitching in the Biscuits' series against the Mudcats, several of whom are now with Louisville. So he's as blind as the Bats are.

Lest that seem totally unfair, which it is, consider the Bats' counter-move: Tom Cochran, a 26-year-old lefty (better against righties, oddly) who has made all of three appearances for Louisville, two good, one eh, since his callup from Double-A Carolina in late August. Not too long ago, Cochran was pitching for the Worcester (MA) Tornadoes in the independent Canadian-American Association. Cochran spent almost three months in the Southern League this season, but missed pitching in the Mudcats' series against the Biscuits, two of whom are now with Durham.

In other words, take your pick. The Bulls have played five games at Louisville this season, and all five of them have been decided by a single run. One went 13 innings, another went 16. Here's my only prediction: after hitting no home runs in the first three games of the series, the Bulls---who led the league in homers this season---will hit at least one on Saturday. And here's something I won't predict but will suggest: Saturday could be a slugfest. (Hey, that rhymed!) The game is at 6:05 p.m.

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