I arrived home last night around 11:00 expecting to check the box score and game summary and post a few thoughts about whatever outcome I found there—but what I found was that the Bulls were still playing baseball in Toledo. They were in the 12th inning and fifth hour of action at Fifth Third Field, yet another new-old retro park that is named for a bank but reminds me a little of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, as if the Toledo stadium’s awkward moniker had something to do with a compromised and fussy legal ruling.
In any case, I tuned into the broadcast (which now has ads—did someone in the advertising dept. read my post during the Bulls’ previous road trip?) not long after Rashad Eldridge walked with one out in the top of the 12th inning off of reliever Ryan Perry, just demoted from the majors. Eldridge stole second and moved to third when catcher Dane Sardinha’s throw glanced off of Eldridge’s helmet and went into center field. Chris Nowak flied out to Brent Clevlen in what sounded like medium or perhaps even shallow-ish center field. Apparently Clevlen has a good arm, because Charlie Montoyo made the conservative choice and held Eldridge at third. According to the account of Bulls’ broadcaster Neil Solondz, Eldridge would have scored had he tagged up and went home: Clevlen’s throw was off-line. The Bulls didn’t score in the inning.
After the teams exchanged scoreless frames, Toledo won, 11-10, in the last of the 13th off of Dewon Day, in Day’s second inning of work. (Day was the seventh Durham pitcher of the night.) Clete Thomas singled to lead off and scored on an opposite-field double by Jeff Larish. Thomas and Larish, who have each spent ample time in the majors over the last two seasons, including this one, accounted for nine of the Mud Hens’ 16 hits and scored seven of the team’s 11 runs.
So, a wild one: the sort of game that you can’t really be upset about losing, since both teams had tons of chances, pitched poorly, pitched well, made errors, had big hits, had big chokes, and were probably exhausted long before it was over. The Bulls, don’t forget, endured an 11-hour, overnight bus ride just to get to this game after finally snapping an eight-game losing streak behind Scott Kazmir in a ballyhooed, high-intensity game at the DBAP on Monday night.
So is it uncharitable to pick at sore spots in Tuesday’s game, then? Yes, it is, but it has to be done. And to be fair, I will also shine the light on some of the bright ones.
* More walks. The Bulls issued eight free passes to Toledo hitters, three of them scoring. (Toledo walked five Bulls.) Matt DeSalvo walked four in two-plus innings. He was lucky that Julio DePaula bailed him out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third, or his ugly line (2 3 3 3 4 0) would have been uglier.
* More bullpen problems. Rehabbing reliever Chad Bradford, the super-submariner, got tagged for three runs on five ground-ball hits in the fifth inning. I’d be willing to chalk a lot of that up to bad luck. Bradford is a ground-ball guy, and he got his grounders; unfortunately, they eluded fielders. Jorge Julio, who spelled Bradford, was awful again. He started the sixth inning walk-single-double (the latter two to Thomas and Larish), and all three baserunners scored. Julio’s ERA is now 10.13. How much longer are the Tampa Bay Rays going to let this lost cause lead them astray? Winston Abreu has appeared in only one game since his callup to Tampa a week and a half ago. If he isn’t going to be used there, why not send him back to Durham (or Toledo) and let him help the Bulls? Failing that, why not revisit the independent Atlantic League, which yielded DeSalvo, who has generally been decent, and Henry Mateo, who is currently the Bulls’ best hitter? A quick scan of the relievers there turns up Esteban Yan (saved 41 games for Tampa in 2001-02), Keith Foulke (191 major-league saves), Armando Benitez (OK, maybe stay away from him), Carlos Almanzar, Bret Prinz, Ryan Bukvich, Chris Britton and Brad Halsey. The latter would at least give Charlie Montoyo a lefthander out of the pen, which he currently doesn’t have with Randy Choate in Tampa.
Yes, I know all of that is reactionary, shortsighted and perhaps even pedantic. But there’s no reason to stick with senescent relievers any longer than you have to if they’re not getting the job done. A year after I bought my ’78 Chevy C10 for $900, the clutch died and I sold it for $500. Close enough. Long may you run, for someone else.
On the plus side of the bullpen equation, Jason Childers and Joe Bateman combined for five shutout relief innings. It should be said that Bateman had to wriggle out of his own mess in the 11th inning, when he walked the leadoff man—Clete Thomas—and then gave up a single to—yep—Jeff Larish. Larish moved to second on defensive indifference. But Bateman then fanned the next three Mud Hens, who probably clucked all the way back to the dugout. Bateman has now walked 16 in 24 1/3 innings.
* Rhyne Hughes! He should have been the hero of this game. He hit a pair of home runs, the second a game-tying solo shot with two outs in the ninth inning. As a Bull, Hughes is now batting .310/.327/.500/.827—and that’s after a slow start—and more than half of his hits have gone for extra bases. With Hughes’s performance, Chris Richard’s prolonged absence (hamstring injury) hasn’t been a major factor in the Bulls’ recent woes.
* Baserunning. Why should Hughes have been the hero of this game? His game-tying dinger ought to have been a game-winner. Guess why it wasn’t? With one out in the top of the ninth, John Jaso singled. Justin Ruggiano was sent in to pinch-run. Guess what Ruggiano did? He got picked off of first base. Then Hughes homered. For good measure, Rashad Eldridge followed with a double, but he was stranded when Chris Nowak flied out to end the inning.
That’s the second time that a Durham Bulls pinch runner has been picked off this season. After two straight S.B.G.-free evenings, Ruggiano committed a doozy that more than erased the refreshing mini-streak. It probably cost the Bulls the game. Ruggiano also got picked off of second (by the catcher) on Friday.
* Lost in this wild, 4 1/2 hour game: Ray Sadler’s grand slam, Jon Weber’s league-leading 23rd double and Matt Joyce’s 0-7. Joyce struck out twice, grounded to second twice and popped out to third. Perhaps his two flyouts to center field went 390 feet apiece and he was robbed of extra bases both times, but I doubt it. Joyce has been lost at the plate since returning from Tampa: He’s 3-38 (all three hits are singles) with 11 strikeouts. His batting average has plunged from .315 to .267. It’s certainly got to be difficult to deal with the deflating emotions of being sent back down to the minors—although even Joyce must have known that he was only holding Pat Burrell’s place temporarily—but Joyce’s current funk is disproportionately awful. He’ll pull out of it, as all good hitters do, and the Bulls need him to do it very soon.
It is 1:00 a.m. as I write this, and I doubt a single Durham Bull is yet asleep in Toledo, despite the post-bus-ride exhaustion. They’d better drink some warm milk, and fast, because their next game is at noon, i.e. 11 hours from now. The good news is that Durham’s best starter, Wade Davis, is on the mound. The potentially bad news is that the only fresh arms in the bullpen belong to Calvin Medlock (not really all that fresh after going three innings on Sunday) and Dale Thayer. If Davis doesn’t last at least six innings, or if the Bulls are pounded again anyway, look for backup catcher Craig Albernaz—who will probably get the day-game-after-a-night-game start—to take the 60-foot-six-inch trot from the plate to the mound for some emergency garbage-time action. (Uber-scrub Alex Jamieson is currently off the roster, although that could change by gametime if Montoyo thinks he might need Jamieson’s 44mph “tumbler.”) Unless Davis is on point, this one could get ugly, and the Bulls, fresh off a dreadful losing streak, could hit another patch of gray ice and start skidding again.