DBAP/ DURHAM—In the sixth inning of the Bulls’ 6-2 loss to the Indianapolis Indians, the sky grew dramatically dark and ominous, and you could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. In the press box, Dave Levine was checking the Doppler radar, which was showing an orange-red storm cell moving toward the DBAP.
The Bulls trailed, 3-2. They’d taken a 2-0 lead with single runs in the first and second innings, and looked poised to rebound from Sunday’s disheartening loss to the Indians. But Indianapolis touched Durham starter Andy Sonnanstine for single runs in the third, fourth and fifth—two scored on solo homers, and the other on a lot of bad luck. You got the feeling, as the sky darkened not only with the onset of night but the gathering of clouds, that the Bulls might be on the verge of erupting after 23 fairly punchless innings so far. Sure, the Bulls had scored six times in splitting the first two games of the series, which isn’t awful, but they’d looked listless at the plate and had choked repeatedly when they needed a big hit.
And so the last of sixth seemed rather emblematic. Jon Weber and Shawn Riggans struck out—two of 10 whiffs on the night for Durham—but then Rhyne Hughes, the ubermensch of the moment for Durham, the team’s lone star in an overcast stretch, ripped his second double of the night. This was a boomer hit to nearly the same place as the fateful one he belted on Sunday, the one that plated one run less than it should have. Here are Rhyne Hughes’s during his 11-game hitting streak, which is the longest of the season by a Bull: 20-37 (that is a .541 batting average), 10 doubles and a homer (.892 slugging). You could complain that he has only drawn three walks during the streak, but do you really expect a guy to take pitches when he’s hitting like this?
Henry Mateo followed Hughes’s double by grounding out to first base and ending the inning. The storm passed without hitting the DBAP; the night grew heavy and still and the small crowd (just over 4,000) got very quiet and stayed that way; and the Bulls failed to score in the last seven innings of the game, going 1-12 with men in scoring position and stranding nine baserunners all told. Afterward, Charlie Montoyo used the word “horrible” to describe the Bulls’ current hitting with men in scoring position. Montoyo doesn’t resort to language that strong very often.
Heather worried after the game that Montoyo shouldn’t have called the current roster “the best team of the year,” which he agreed to do when the descriptor was suggested to him two games ago. I agree not only that the Bulls have a sprained RISP right now, but also that comments like that are an almost sure way to jinx a ballclub. Still, I don’t think Bulls fans should worry too much about their team just yet.
As Montoyo noted after the game, “that lineup should score more than what we’re doing.” It should, and it will, barring a contagious slump of supernatural character. The Bulls’ 3-6 hitters went 1-16 with five strikeouts. That isn’t going to happen often. Shawn Riggans hasn’t played against competition this strong in four months. Matt Joyce is in one of those little funks he falls into periodically. Justin Ruggiano had gone 3-4 with two doubles the night before and was due for a regression. Chris Richard was given a night off, probably to help snap him out of his 4-27 slump. The Bulls’ 7-9 hitters had six of the team’s eight hits. Newbie Desmond Jennings came up three times with a man in scoring position and made three outs; he’s seeing Triple-A pitching for the first time. Give him time to adjust. For what it’s worth, he also drew a pair of walks and stole a base.