Durham Bulls down Buffalo Bisons, snap losing streak, head to Allentown

Buffalo Bisons mascot “Chip” hands out flyers near the ballpark, June 24, 2013.

Back in late May, the Bulls pounced on Ricky Romero in the first inning at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. They tagged him for eight runs, and he tallied more walks (three) than outs (two). It was an absolute disaster. About a week later, the Blue Jays dropped him from their 40-man roster, affixing him to Triple-A until further notice with an implicit message: we no longer consider you major-league material.

Romero took the loss that night in Durham, his first decision of the season. He was evidently the victim of some poor luck and poor fielding behind him at Norfolk five days later. He allowed five runs but was done in by a bloop single and a poor read on a fly ball by an infielder pressed into duty as an outfielder. Then he was much better in his next couple of starts, which were spread out one per week, as though the Blue Jays thought he might benefit from lighter use.

He got no decisions in all three of his June appearances and was still 0-1 before last night’s game against Durham. Only that dreadful eight-run first inning at the DBAP showed up on his win-loss ledger, despite a 6.69 ERA and twenty-eight walks allowed in less then thirty-eight innings pitched. The Bulls are a selective bunch of hitters. Now that Wil Myers is gone (Myers hit a two-run home run off Romero on May 27), there are ways to get every single one of the remaining guys out, but throwing them pitches out of the strike zone to chase is not one of them. They may have no power, but they do have patience. Of the thirty-two pitches Romero threw the Bulls on May 27, nineteen were balls. Romero walked three men in a row with two outs, forcing in a run and sending him to the dugout before the first inning was over.

Last night, more of the same. Romero threw seventy-five pitches (by my count), only thirty-five for strikes. He walked five batters in three and one-third innings. The Bulls, struggling to score runs, needed this kind of help, and they capitalized on it. The Bulls as a team this year are batting an excellent .293 with runners on base. On Monday, they went 5-7 with runners in scoring position, and they should have had an eighth run rather than the seven they scored: in the third inning, Jason Bourgeois, attempting to score from first base on a Vince Belnome double, was called out at the plate even though Bisons catcher Mike Nickeas missed the tag.

That play ended the third inning, holding the Bulls’ lead at 2-0. It was the kind of outrageous (mis)fortune (to borrow again from Hamlet, which you might as well expect me to do for the next few days) that can do in a team that’s already struggling. But this time, Romero’s lack of control more than offset the Bulls’ lack of luck. He walked the first two batters in the fourth inning, and Buffalo manager Marty Brown was quick to get a reliever up in the bullpen. This showed a total lack of confidence in Romero, which at this point in Romero’s free-falling career is probably the correct response, but in this case Brown was hoist with his own petard. After Mike Fontenot sacrificed the runners to second and third and Cole Figueroa doubled them both home, Brown called on reliever Claudio Vargas. We’ll just call him Claudius, because he really had it in for Romero’s Hamlet: he allowed a double, a triple, and a sacrifice fly.

That made it 7-0, and the Bulls coasted to a 7-1 win from there. They’ve been getting mostly very good pitching throughout their recent dry spell at the plate, and last night Mike Montgomery pitched deftly. He looked shaky in the first three innings, allowing two singles and three walks, but he also got slugger Mauro Gomez to ground into two double plays. He induced yet another one from Gomez to end the fifth inning, with a run in and two men on: it was the game’s decisive play, as it quelled the Bisons’ only significant threat in the face of the Bulls’ freshly built seven-run lead.

Montgomery and reliever Jeff Beliveau allowed only three more baserunners over the final four innings. Montgomery was by no means dominant—he did not record a 1-2-3 inning despite going seven innings all told—but he pitched confidently, and sidestepped what trouble he created for himself, which betokened an evolution in Montgomery’s often shaky mental ability to overcome difficulties and get out of jams. If only Hamlet had had that skill.

It’s getting late and I have an early flight to Philadelphia, and then a drive to Allentown, so I’m going to cut this short and get my bags packed. Buffalo has been a delight—I’ll have more about that soon—despite the Bulls’ three losses. But are Bulls losses really so terrible? We’re here to tell stories, not lead cheers, and as Hamlet tells us, there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

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