DBAP/DURHAM Well good evening sports fans from beautiful Downtown Durham, where I am in what has become my regular spot covering the Governors' Cup Finals ever since the Bulls joined the International League in 1998.
The Bulls are taking on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in the opener of the best-of-5 series for the title for the second straight year, after losing the series in four games in 2008. It is only the fourth rematch in Governors' Cup Finals history and the first since 1997.
Durham is in the Governors' Cup Finals for the third straight season and the seventh time in its 12 seasons in the league. The Bulls won back-to-back championships in 2002 and '03.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has been in the playoffs four times since 1992, with its only championship coming last season.
The series winner advances to the one-game Triple-A National Championship Game on Sept. 22 in Oklahoma City.
Tonight I - who covered the Bulls for The Incredible Shrinking Herald-Sun from May of 1985 to May of 2009, when they decided to start sending my former salary to the hard-working suits in Kentucky - am pinch-hitting for Adam Sobsey, who has been covering the team all season for Triangle Offense. Don't worry, folks. Adam, who is expected back for Game 2 on Wednesday night, misses a good one as the Bulls win a 4-1 pitchers' duel for ace Jeremy Hellickson (pictured).
I am also, incidentally, covering for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.
There is, by Triple-A standards, a veritable media crush in the press box. By the time I fight through a traffic jam on West 40 to get to the park from Brier Creek, all the mashed potatoes that went with the glorified Salisbury steaks on the buffet are gone. Hello, kettle chips.
But enough about all that. Hard-nosed Carolina Hurricanes forward Erik Cole fires a solid ceremonial first pitch and it's time to play ball!
The Bulls get to SWB's Romulo Sanchez for a run in the first. Henry Mateo draws a one-out walk, takes third on Joe Dillon's single to left and scores on Sean Rodriguez's two-out single to left.
Durham adds to its lead in the sixth. Mateo leads off with a bunt up the third-base line, with Sanchez firing the ball past first and down the right-field line. Mateo winds up at third with a hit, an error on Sanchez and a fielding error on right fielder Colin Curtis on the play.Dillon then singles to right to make it 2-0 and chase the starter.
Matt Joyce continues the rally with a double to right off Zach Kronke, followed by a one-out intentional walk to Justin Ruggiano. Then with two out, Michel Hernandez strokes a two-run single to center to make it 4-0.
John Rodriguez, who played in Durham last season, gets the Yankees on the board in the seventh by blasting Hellickson's two-out, 1-1 offering over the wall at the 375 mark in left center. Julio DePaula replaces Hellickson.
And that's where the score stays, as DePaula and Winston Abreu shut the door.
Wednesday's Game 2 will be the last game of the season in Durham, with the remainder of the series at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa.
Here's what they said ...
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo: "Hellickson has been outstanding all year long. We knew we didn't have much room for error tonight. Michel got a big hit for us in the sixth. He's been swinging the bat good. When Joe (Dillon) was on third base, I told him (Hernandez) was going to do something good."
Hellickson: "We were in a few tough spots. ... I just bear down in those situations - throw good strikes and make good pitches. I had a better fastball tonight. I don't think I mixed it up as much. Everything felt good though, I just had a better command of my fastball tonight."
Dillon: "This team is a great team and we have been all year long. We got another great pitching performance from Hellickson."
What does it all mean?
That the Bulls are two wins away from their third Governors' Cup.
Stars of the game
1. Hellickson, for allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings.
2. Hernandez, for the two-run single in the sixth.
3. Rodriguez, for his homer and a single.
Play of the game
Hernandez's two-run single in the sixth.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Durham, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Ian Kennedy (R, 0-0, 0.00) vs. Mitch Talbot (R, 4-4, 4.47)