With the International League regular season coming to a close, the Durham Bulls squeaked out a 4-3 win Tuesday in their home finale against the Gwinnett Braves. After losing to the Braves on Monday, the Bulls division lead had slipped to two and a half games. The victory drops the Bulls magic number to three with six games to play.
General Manager Mike Birling had commented on Monday that due to the crazy schedule the last few days there probably would not be a starting pitcher available. The bullpen scramble started with Lance Cormier taking the mound first. It was a rocky beginning with Cormier giving up five hits and two runs in his two innings of work. Jay Buente came in and settled things down, pitching three scoreless innings and allowing just one hit.
The Bulls were able to tie the game in the bottom of the first and went ahead in the third, 3-2. Tim Beckham led off the inning with a single and moved to third on a double by Brandon Guyer. Justin Ruggiano hit a grounder that squirted through the legs of first baseman Wes Helms and allowed both Beckham and Guyer to score.
Adam Russell was shaky in the fifth, giving up a run to tie the game off two hits. Dane De La Rosa pitched a scoreless seventh and a flawless eighth, striking out the side. In the bottom of the eighth, Beckham got things started with a double off the wall in left. Guyer sacrificed him over to third but Ruggiano went down on strikes for the second out of the inning. Then it got interesting.
The Braves intentionally walked first baseman Dan Johnson to pitch to Russ Canzler. I was shocked, as Canzler in my mind was the odds on favorite to be named International League MVP, which he was awarded in a ceremony after the game. Canzler delivered, singling to right and driving in Beckham from third. Johnson was thrown out trying to take third to end the inning, but the damage was done.
Closer Rob Delaney shut down the Braves in the ninth and the Bulls moved one game closer to clinching a spot in the playoffs. The question now becomes what kind of roster they will have for this playoff run. Only four players have spent the entire year with the Bulls and just nine players that were on the opening day roster are currently on the team. The Rays are trying to make one last playoff push and could use some help but what kind and who, remains to be seen.