Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a superior pitching performance. We just have to hope and pray, though, that one of those games doesn’t happen when everything is on the line. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to the Bulls in the Triple-A Championship Game as the other teams’s near-perfection will simply resound in their heads as their failure.
Triple-A Championship Game: Omaha Storm Chasers (KCR) 2, Durham Bulls 1
After winning the International League title, the Bulls advanced to the one-game Triple-A Championship game, where they took on the Pacific Coast League champion Omaha Storm Chasers. It was going to be the last game of their season win or lose, and unfortunately it did not end well.
Jake Odorizzi got the start for the Bulls, and it worked out great for him for several reasons. First off, it’s nice to be the pitcher getting the nod for the equivalent of World Series Game 1 (especially when there’s no Game 2), and secondly, it was on the same day as inconsistent Rays starter Jerem Hellickson, meaning that Odorizzi’s next start may come five days from now in the major leagues after Hellickson allowed 5 runs in 2.2 innings to the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. But once the game began, Odorizzi found the going much tougher. Odorizzi labored from the start, throwing 23 pitches in the first inning, and he wound up throwing 79 pitches in just 4 innings. But Odorizzi battled to hold the Storm Chasers to just one run on a Manny Pina RBI single in the second inning, working around 5 hits and a walk in his 4 frames, striking out 8 in the processs. It wasn’t his best effort, but he didn’t break and handed the ball off to J.D. Martin with the Bulls down just a run. That type of resilience in a key game was in sharp contrast to Hellickson’s implosion, and that can go unnoticed by the Rays.
Martin went the next 4 innings and did just as good as Odorizzi, allowing 1 run on 5 hits. He didn’t strike out a batter while walking one, but he forced 7 groundball outs and kept Omaha hitters off-balance like he did against IL hitters all season. An Irving Falu RBI single in the 6th was the only run allowed. But despite the best efforts of Odorizzi and Martin, the Bulls were behind 2-0 because Chris Dwyer was just too dominant on the other side. Dwyer stuck out 7 while tossing perfect ball over the first 6.2 innings before Tim Beckham finally broke it up with a single in the 7th. Beckham got to second base on a wild pitch, but Dwyer struck out Vince Belnome to end the threat. Dwyer went 7 innings allowing just that 1 hit, striking out 8 and walking none. The Bulls finally scored in the 8th as Leslie Anderson pinch-hit for Shelley Duncan and drilled a 2-run homer off Michael Mariot to make it 2-1. Then in the 9th, the Bulls mounted a rally with 2 outs, getting a Cole Figueroa single and a Beckham walk to put the tying run at second base. But Zach Jackson struck out Belnome once again to end it as the Storm Chasers won the Triple-A championship.
The Bulls won the International League championship, and this was just one game. This can’t put a damper on what was an outstanding season. Wil Myers and Chris Archer finished their developments on their way to big league success, Jake Odorizzi and Tim Beckham have done their best to solidify themselves as real big league options for next season, and veterans like J.D. Martin and Matt Buschmann pitched outstandingly to earn themselves a shot at the big leagues in Tampa Bay or elsewhere next year as well. The reverberations of this 2013 Durham Bulls season will be heard for a long time, and it may just change the course of the next several years for the Tampa Bay Rays.