The Undercards: Merrill Kelly Dominates to Lead Bulls to International League Title

By Robbie Knopf

Every kid dreams of being the pitcher on the mound in Game 7 with the World Series on the line. Game 6, though, may be just as much pressure. You take the mound knowing that you have the potential to deliver your team a World Series victory but also that if you fail, you’re sending the other team into Game 7 with momentum. Merrill Kelly got to live just a piece of the dream on Saturday as he took the mound for the Bulls in Game 4 of the best-of-five International League Championship Series with a chance to send the Bulls to the Triple-A Championship Game. The results were better than anyone could have imagined.

Triple-A International League Playoffs: Durham Bulls 7, Pawtucket Red Sox 0

Jonathan Diaz singled in the 4th and against in the 6th and Dan Butler was hit by a pitch in the 5th. That was it for the Pawtucket Red Sox offense. Merrill Kelly and the Durham Bulls bullpen combined for the playoff performance of a lifetime, 2-hitting Pawtucket to clinch the IL title. Kelly started for the Bulls and retired the first 10 men he faced, but even Diaz broke up the perfect game and no-hit bids, Kelly was unfazed. Kelly rolled through 6 innings of 2-hit ball, striking out 7 while walking 2. It was the perfect ending to a breakout season, and if he keeps this up in the Arizona Fall League, we will him in Tampa Bay at some point next season. The bullpen was equally effective behind him, with Jeff Beliveau striking out 3 of the 4 batters he faced in 1.1 perfect innings, Steve Geltz retiring both batters he faced, and Adam Liberatore closing it out with a perfect 9th, striking out 1. And then there was the offense. Jason Bourgeois started the scoring with an RBI single in the 1st before Kevin Kiermaier‘s 2-run homer in the second inning gave the Bulls a 3-0 lead. Shelley Duncan doubled home a run in the 4th, and then the Bulls broke the game open in the 6th, scoring thrice on a Mike Fontenot RBI triple and RBI singles by Kiermaier and Cole Figueroa. Kiermaier went 2 for 5 with the homer, 3 RBI, and 2 runs scored, Fontenot went 2 for 4 with a triple, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Vince Belnome went 2 for 4 with a double and a walk in the win for Durham. It was a special game for the Bulls, and the culmination of one of the greatest seasons the franchise had ever seen. The Bulls went 87-57 (.604), the best record in the IL, one year after a .458 winning percentage that was their worst since 2006, and to finish it with an International League championship officially puts it in the record books. The Bulls will take on the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate, the Omaha Storm Chasers, in the Triple-A Championship Game on Tuesday.