Nobody hit the bull and won a steak, but there was plenty of offense, and not quite enough defense, in Durham on Saturday night, where the Bulls (AAA-Tampa Bay) lost to the Charlotte Knights (AAA-White Sox) 6-5.
There was a decent helping of recent, and probably future, MLB-level talent on display too. The Bulls’ starting lineup featured David-Price-trade-acquisition Nick Franklin, rehabbing 2013 AL rookie of the year Wil Meyers, and former Detroit Tiger and Atlanta Brave Wilson Betemit. The Knights sent out former Tigers outfielder Matt Tuiasosopo.
The game was so tight through the first five innings that when Charlotte finally plated the first run of the night with two out in the top of the sixth, the Knights’ 1-0 lead felt insurmountable. They built it to 3-0 in the top of the seventh, seemingly sucking the energy out of the home crowd.
The Bulls had a comeback in them, though, and they broke out with four manufactured runs in the bottom of the seventh to claim a 4-3 lead. When they extended it to 5-3 with a home run in the eighth, suddenly it was the Bulls’ lead that felt insurmountable.
The top of the ninth began with an inauspicious hit-by-pitch, which was followed by an RBI double and a two-run homer. Charlotte’s closer looked shaky to start the bottom of the ninth, but, following much mound conferencing, he settled in, and Durham was unable to extend the game. Charlotte won 6-5.
While the inability of Durham closer Josh Lueke to hold a two-run lead in the ninth was disappointing, I found Meyers’ performance most irritating. In my opinion, he committed two fielding errors (he was only tagged for one of them) in left, which came on two of the laziest efforts I’ve ever seen at the professional level. Both mistakes contributed to runs scored for the Knights, critical in such a tight game. And it wasn’t just Meyers’ fielding that looked bad; he had a bad look about him too: most notably, he refused to wear a Bulls batting helmet, insisting instead on wearing his MLB-level Tampa Bay helmet on offense. Ordinarily, I don’t put much stock in things like that, but in Meyers’ case, it reinforced what I saw in his on-field performance. He didn’t need his fancy big-league helmet to make it clear to his ostensible teammates and fans that he’s not too interested in playing baseball in Durham.
Win or lose, though, Durham Bulls games are a lot of fun. The park is of recent vintage, very nice, and on Saturday night, very full. We had perfect weather, excellent seats, and a competitive game. It’s hard to ask baseball for much more than that.