Just like their parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Durham Bulls also played a nail-biter on Thursday. The differences: the Bulls were playing a playoff game, and despite facing an even more daunting situation, they found a way to win.
Triple-A International League Postseason Game 2: Durham Bulls 4, Columbus Clippers (CLE) 3 (10 innings; series tied 1-1)
The game was not going so terribly. Enny Romero gave the Bulls a decent enough start, allowing 3 runs in 5 innings, and the Bulls had gotten a pair of runs on RBI singles by Vince Belnome and Luke Maile. The Durham bullpen had been excellent, allowing just 1 hit and no walks from the sixth inning to the eighth. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter how you lose. It’s meaningless to say “at least we played a good game.” The Bulls were three outs away from losing to the Columbus Clippers and seeing a promising season face a 2-0 hole in a best-of-five series. Tim Beckham hit a bullet line drive, but it landed in the glove of Matt Carson for the first out of the frame.
But the game couldn’t end like that. Like we saw with the Rays this season, even if they will end up going nowhere, we have to give them credit for battling back and giving us something to watch for a couple of months. The Bulls certainly were not going to go down quietly. Belnome walked and Nick Franklin singled. Mike Fontenot singled again, and the Bulls had tied the game. That was all the Bulls could manage–Franklin and Fontenot executed a double steal but neither could score. But in the following inning, Cole Figueroa drilled a triple before Beckham flyball gave the Bulls a 4-3 lead. Adam Liberatore tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning and the Bulls’ season was not over yet.
Nick Franklin is finally hitting his stride, and he could not have picked a better time. He went 3 for 4 in this game with a double, a run scored, and a stolen base. With these games about winning now, not as much about showcasing the Rays’ top prospects, Franklin was moved down to seventh in the batting order after spending most of his time batting leadoff or second. He responded quite well. Figueroa had a great overall game to go along with scoring the winning run, going 2 for 5, while Tim Beckham added a double and a run scored to his game-winning RBI. Then there was Luke Maile. Maile spent this entire season at Double-A Montgomery, but with Curt Casali in the big leagues as the Rays’ third catcher, here was Maile coming up for the Triple-A postseason. What did he do? Deliver an RBI hit. Maile could have had a better season, but he more than held his own as a player a year and a half below the average age of the Southern League and he is another name to file away for the Rays as they figure out their catching situation in the coming years.
Merrill Kelly managed a 2.30 ERA and a 33-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 31.1 innings pitched as a reliever in the regular season, and kept that up in this game with 2 shutout innings, allowing just a hit while striking out 1. This guy should be starting–on another team, he might have a chance to crack their big league rotation–but relieving at the highest level should be an option for him as well. We can’t be sure that Josh Lueke will ever find big league success, but he continued his mastery of Triple-A with 2 perfect innings with 2 strikeouts to earn the win in this game. Then there was Liberatore, who has the stuff and the numbers to deserve a Steve Geltz-like chance at the big leagues. Hopefully this Bulls playoff run lasts a long time, but as soon as it stops, it will be interesting to see who the Rays call up.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League Playoffs Game 2: State College Spikes (STL) 3, Hudson Valley Renegades 0 (Series tied 1-1)
Sorry, but I can’t be excited about this game. Hunter Wood did better than Romero, going 6 allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 5 while walking 1. That’s a start he can be relatively proud of. Eli Echarry tossed 2 shutout innings behind him, working a hit and a walk with 2 strikeouts and 2 groundouts. His sinker-slider combination was working quite well as he kept the deficit at three. But there was nothing going on for the Renegades in this offense in this game as Spikes pitching faced just four over the minimum. Braxton Lee had a nice game, going 2 for 4 with a double, while Jace Conrad and Alec Sole had the Renegades’ other 2 hits. Like the Bulls, the Renegades play tonight at 7:05 PM, only they will face an elimination game.