But a five-run explosion in the ninth against a wildly ineffective Mike Ekstrom (35 ninth-inning pitches, just 15 strikes), after Tides manager Gary Allenson had an explosion of his own—more on that later—shook down all of the intervening action, which turned out to have been in the service of an outcome decided in the third inning. The Bulls have lost the first two games of this four-game series to 25-38 Norfolk, the worst team in the league. Only because the Gwinnett Braves lost again do the Bulls find themselves still tied for the IL South Division lead.
The definition of teleology can get unpleasantly complex, but it boils down to something like this: Things wind up a certain way because they are, essentially, destined or programmed to do so by natural forces (the Greek word telos means “end” or “purpose”). Once that end arrives, all that has gone before it is illuminated. Christianity, for example, is teleological: a Revelation at the end of the world will explain all that has led up to that end.
So let’s work backward and see if we can discover exactly how last night’s game worked, teleologically speaking. Or if it worked at all.
Bottom of the ninth inning: Ray Olmedo, who had walked and scored the game’s first run ahead of Canzler’s home run, back in the first inning, lines out to end the game.
Top of the ninth inning, two outs: Rob Delaney relieves Mike Ekstrom, who has allowed three runs, two doubles, a single and three walks, plus a wild pitch. The bases are loaded with one out. Robinson Chirinos lets Delaney’s first pitch go off his glove to the backstop, scoring Kyle Hudson to make it 10-5. Four pitches later, Blake Davis hits a sacrifice fly to make it 11-5.
That will be the final score. Durham infielder Omar Luna is warming up in the bullpen. Luna pitched an inning of blowout relief last Monday. That Luna may be summoned here is rather remarkable, considering that it was 6-5, Tides, when the inning began. Yet that’s where we are, suddenly, at the butt end of what is now a position-player-pitching rout.
Top of the ninth inning, one out: Ekstrom, who had spelled Ryan Reid in the top of the eighth inning and gotten the final out to keep the Bulls’ deficit at two runs, has walked the leadoff hitter, Josh Bell, who has stolen second base as Rhyne Hughes struck out looking. The next batter, Tyler Henson, hits a long drive to center field, just left of straightaway. Back goes Desmond Jennings. He has no play. He watches the ball just clear the wall for a two-run home run. 8-5, Tides.
But wait. Jennings is indicating that the ball cleared the wall, but not the fence. See, at the DBAP, the wall is backed by a fence with stiles, and that fence has a yellow line painted horizontally across it. The common understanding is that a ball is supposed to clear the yellow line atop the railing in order to be considered a home run. Indeed, according to Tides manager Gary Allenson, he and the umpires met at home plate before the series started and agreed that a ball that lands, improbably, between the wall and the fence, will be a ground-rules double, not a homer.
Yet over the last few seasons, a few balls have found that unlikely seam, and more than one has been ruled a homer. (Poor Wade Davis was victimized twice.)
Nonetheless, one of the umpires eventually goes out there, where Jennings and left-fielder Russ Canzler are standing by the center field wall. (I know what you’re thinking: Left fielder Russ Canzler? I’ll get back to that, I promise.) He actually disappears between the wall’s vertical slats, then reappears moments later with the ball—and orders Henson back to second base. So it’s 7-5 Tides, not 8-5.
I suspect that what happens next later made some highlights shows you may have seen on ESPN or elsewhere. Gary Allenson, him not pleased. After he goes and talks it over, unhappily, with the umpire—I think it was Chris Ward—he is unconvinced.
Let’s let him tell it: “My point with the umpire, when they changed it to being a ground-rule double, was: How do you know that’s the ball [that Henson hit]?”
Allenson’s argument is that there could have been a multitude of dead-and-gone home-run balls out there beyond the wall, the ghosts of homers past; but as he told it, “The guy that eventually threw me out said, ‘Well, it’s a dry ball.’”
Well, that lame and frankly ridiculous explanation drives Allenson up the wall. Literally. He walks from the area near the shortstop hole where he has been debating with Ward all the way out to center field. Walks, mind you, not runs. This takes a few minutes. We have already been through a 52-minute rain delay. Allenson then walks through the space in the blue wall where Jennings indicated that the homer was really a double. Allenson then scales the railing behind the wall, drops to the other side—the grassy berm behind the rail—and begins to scope it for signs of other baseballs.
Meanwhile, as Allenson makes the march out to the wall, Ward ejects him from the game.
Still, Allenson said, “That’s why I climbed the wall: maybe I could find a ball out there, too. Maybe there are five balls out there. Maybe I’ll find a ball that’s a little wet and I’ll rub it up and it’ll be dry.”
To go backward in my recording a bit—because backward is the direction we’re going here—Allenson began by allowing that “balls can go through that [narrow gap between wall and railing]; it’s a really tough call; if it goes through the opening there, instead of a guy getting hurt, it’s a ground-rule double.” That’s what the umps had decreed before the series began.
Nonetheless, more Allenson: “My first thought was, ‘We’re playing much better lately, but we’ve struggled—and with 38 losses, we’ve lost in different ways. And all of a sudden, we had a one-run lead, it’s kinda dwindling. A two-run home run is a bit of breathing room—but it’s not a two-run home run. That’s why I went out there.”
Had Allenson found another ball—and if he’d only explored the shrubs in dead-center field on the berm, he almost surely would have (instead he turned left and wound up behind the radar-gun readout screen, while the crowd howled)—had he found another ball, he’d have had a case. But he didn’t. He should have taken one out there with him and planted it, in case the ump had done the very same thing.
Well, the call was correct, in any case: it was pretty obvious that the ball had gone right in that seam and should have been ruled a double. Still, Allenson had to get back over the wall. “It was a lot easier going up than it was coming down,” he cracked. But he managed it, and then walked all the way back to the infield, spoke with the first base umpire, Mark Lollo, who must have said something like, Ain’t my lookout, pal, try Ward; then tried Ward—who had already thrown Allenson out—and was Warded off. Finally, after a delay that must have tacked on sufficient minutes to stretch our 52 minutes of non-baseball-playing to a full hour, Allenson went to the clubhouse.
(Update, 12:30 p.m.: The Bulls have just posted Allenson’s full seven-minute performance! Here:)