DBAP/DURHAM At the end of a 50-mile drive from Zebulon, I get to the place where I worked for 14 ½ seasons before being shown the door by The Incredible Shrinking Herald-Sun.

The Durham Bulls are back in town for a three-game set against the Gwinnett Braves after winning four of five in their two-city Independence Day weekend series with the Charlotte Knights. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the whole “Gwinnett Braves” concept, having seen Atlanta prospects and reserves from Tommie Aaron to Dale Murphy play at old Parker Field during my high school years in Richmond.

There’s a very good vibe around the Bulls, since manager Charlie Montoyo is back with the team after missing nine games to be in Los Angeles where his 21-month-old son Alex underwent a very successful surgery to treat a birth defect in his heart known as Ebstein’s anomaly.

The press box is crowded tonight as at least five different news operations are represented, with me of course pinch-hitting for Adam Sobsey for the next three nights. And the fried chicken buffet is out, with mac & cheese and corn and rolls and a tossed salad. At least I skipped the rolls.

There’s a promising pitching matchup, as Andy Sonnanstine is on the hill for the Bulls with rehabilitating Jo-Jo Reyes going for the “G-Braves.” Sonnanstine is the eventual winner as the Bulls survive a blooper-fest 8-3.

Reyes, on a short pitch count, goes two perfect innings while Sonnanstine is having trouble getting it going early. Gwinnett scores twice in the first, as Reid Gorecki and Wes Timmons single – with Timmons stealing second while the Bulls simply aren’t watching – and later score on back-to-back sac flies to right from Kelly Johnson and Barbaro Canizares.

It goes to 3-0 in the third, as Gorecki leads off with a double and scores on Canizares’ two-out double to left.

The Bulls do far better against designated follower John Halama. In the fourth, Jon Weber doubles and Justin Ruggiano walks, and after John Jaso’s single Elliot Johnson is hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. The second run scores on a sac fly.

Durham takes the lead in the fifth. Henry Mateo leads off with a bunt single, followed by a one-out walk to Matt Joyce. Justin Ruggiano then blasts a 1-0 pitch into the Diamond View seats in right and it’s 5-3.

The Bulls add another funky run in the sixth. With one out, Rhyne Hughes gets an infield hit, and after Mateo flies to center Hughes is awarded third when Gorecki tosses the ball into the outfield seats for a two-base bonehead error. Reid Brignac’s single scores the run.

A two-run rally in the eighth is just gravy.

Here’s what they said …

Bulls skipper Charlie Montoyo: “Thanks to God first. The surgery was four days ago, and Alex was out of the hospital on Sunday. The surgeon told us if it had been 10 years ago, he would have told us there was nothing he could do. … I’ve seen (plays similar to Gorecki’s error) on TV, but never in person. … (On Timmons’ steal) I never saw the umps call time out, so I didn’t argue. That was a heads-up play. Most guys would have just stood there talking to the first baseman.”

Sonnanstine: “I felt good. I pitched inside better than I have been. That’s one of the little things I’ve been trying to work on.”

Johnson: “Charlie was feeling a whole lot better when he got here. You could see it in his eyes and in his face. I’m glad we were able to win one for him tonight.”

What does it all mean?

That the Bulls are two games ahead of Norfolk in the South Division race and percentage points out of first place in the league.

Stars of the game

1. Ruggiano, for the big homer.

2. Sonnanstine, for a quality start that lasts seven innings.

3. Brignac, for two hits and two RBI.

Play of the game

Durham catcher John Jaso hanging on after a hard collision at the plate when Gorecki tried to score from second on Timmons’ single to right fielder Joyce.

Season series

Bulls lead 8-4.


Durham: Won 3.

Gwinnett: Lost 1.



On deck

Gwinnett at Durham, Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.

Tony Armas (right, 1-2, 4.15) vs. Jason Cromer (left, 2-2, 1.43)