Winning is the priority for any baseball team. But especially given the length of the season, if you lose a key player in the process, what could have been a huge, momentum-building win just leaves you wondering how you’re going to go on. Hak-Ju Lee is not quite Evan Longoria, but losing him for the remainder of the season is a huge loss for the Durham Bulls and the entire Rays organization.
Triple-A International League Game 1: Durham Bulls 10, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 4 (7 innings)
The game was going about as well as it possibly could have. Through 3 innings, the Bulls offense had already driven in 5 runs while Chris Archer rolled on the pitching side, and the Bulls had a 5-0 lead. In the 4th, though Chris Archer got into a 1-out jam, allowing a walk, a single, and a walk to load the bases. But everyone had confidence that Archer would be OK, and sure enough, Archer forced a groundball to Tim Beckham at second base. As this video shows (although I can’t recommend watching it), Beckham fielded the ball a little less than halfway-between second base and first base with his momentum taking him towards first, but he made the ill-advised decision to not only go for the force at second base but also to flip the ball to the shortstop Hak-Ju Lee instead of throwing it, and the ramifications of that were everyone’s worst nightmare. The ball came towards Lee and was slightly offline, and Lee couldn’t handle it, putting him right in front of second base as the runner, Travis Ishikawa, slid into the base. Ishikawa feet slid directly into the lower part of Lee’s leg, and after the contact caused Lee to bend down, Ishikawa’s head collided directly with Lee’s knee, leaving Lee writhing in pain and Ishikawa also hurt. Both would leave the game, but their prognoses were very different. Ishikawa had broken his nose; Lee had torn ligaments in his knee and will be out for the remainder of the season. Lee was 1 for 2 in the game, upping his average to .422 in 45 at-bats on the season. Overall, he managed a .422/.536/.600 line with 3 doubles, a triple, a homer, 7 RBI, 6 of 8 in stolen base attempts, and 11 walks against just 9 strikeouts in 15 games and 56 plate appearances. He was playing out of his mind on a trajectory that would surely end in the major leagues by the time the season was through- but now it’s over.
Archer went 5 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 3 but forcing an outstanding 8-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Steve Geltz tossed the final 2 innings for Durham and allowed a run on 3 hits but struck out 5 without walking a batter, leaving him with 9 strikeouts against no walks in his last two games. Geltz is a pitcher known for severe control struggles, but maybe he has finally broken through. On the offensive side, Leslie Anderson slammed a 3-run homer in 4 trips, Mike Fontenot went 2 for 3 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, and Beckham went 1 for 2 with a triple, a walk, and a run scored. It was a dominating win, but all feeling was taken out of it when Lee went down.
Game 2: Durham Bulls 5, Norfolk Tides 3 (7 innings)
There was a second game as well, and the Bulls came away with a second win while their emotions were numb. Alex Torres pitched solidly for Durham although his control issues resurfaced, going 5 innings allowing 3 runs on just 1 hit, striking out 8 while walking 4 and posting a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Hopefully the strikeouts and groundouts are more indicative of the future than the walks. Kirby Yates and Josh Lueke struck out 5 batters in the next 2 innings to finish the game, leaving the Bulls with 13 strikeouts in just 7 innings. Wow. On the offensive, an event we have all been waiting for finally took place as Wil Myers slammed his first home run of the season, going 1 for 2 with a walk on the day. Myers’ power hasn’t been impressive so far, but his strikeout to walk ratio has been an outstanding 15-10, exactly what the Rays needed to see from him after he managed just a 140-61 mark last year. Vince Belnome also had a 2-run home run, and Beckam went 1 for 3 with an RBI double. Great to see Myers slam that first homer, but he certainly could have picked a better day because one home run doesn’t ease the grief of losing Lee for the year.
Double-A Southern League: Tennessee Smokies (CHC) 11, Montgomery Biscuits 4
It’s amazing that this game was as close as it was because the Biscuits were terrible. Jake Thompson got shelled again, going 4 innings allowing 7 runs, 6 earned, on 8 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. He followed up a tremendous season debut by allowing 7 runs in 4 innings in his last 2 starts. The bullpen only allowed 4 more runs in the next 4 innings. But pretty amazing was the offense, which didn’t get a single hit outside of its first three batters but somehow managed to score 4 runs, stranding just 1 runner on base the entire game. Ty Morrison went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored and Mikie Mahtook had an RBI triple.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 7, Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 4 (13 innings)
Lenny Linsky blew the save in the 9th (to his credit, he was trying to pull off the always-difficult 2.2 inning save), but Charlotte got 3 runs in the 13th to win the game 7-4. Parker Markel struggled once again to begin the year, allowing 3 runs in 3.2 innings, but Eliazer Suero and Linsky were excellent, allowing just 1 run in 5.1 innings. Unfortunately for them, that one run was enough to send the game into extra innings. But after Nate Garcia tossed 2 shutout innings, Hector Guevara came up huge in the 13th, drilling a 2-run double as part of a 3-run inning as the Stone Crabs found a way to win. Jake DePew had a big game, going 2 for 4 with a walk and an RBI, Jeff Malm finally slammed his first homer of the season and surprisingly stole a base, and Alejandro Segovia and Kyeong Kang both went 2 for 6, with Segovia driving in 2 runs. Outstanding bullpen effort by the Stone Crabs (1 run in 8.1 innings!), and it was great that they got enough offense to make it count.
Low-A Midwest League: Dayton Dragons (CIN) 6, Bowling Green Hot Rods 3
Disastrous finish to this one as Jose Alberto Molina allowed 4 runs in the 8th to turn a 3-2 lead into a 6-3 deficit. Before that, Sean Bierman was great for Bowling Green, going 5 innings allowing just 2 runs, 1 earned, on 1 hit, striking out 6 while walking 1. After he’s allowed just 1 run in his first 3 starts, allowing just 7 hits in 16 innings, striking out 11 while walking 2, and managing a 1.40-to-1 groundout to airout ratio, you have to imagine that he could be ticketed for High-A before long if he keeps pitching well. On the offensive side, Andrew Toles slammed the home run that gave the Hot Rods their 3-2 lead in the 8th, Joey Rickard went 2 for 3 with a triple, a walk, and an RBI, and Tyler Goeddel had a triple of his own and a run scored. Solid effort by the Hot Rods, and tough to see the game finish the way it did.