The Durham Bulls outhit, and outslugged the Pawtucket Red Sox. They picked up homers from designated hitter Jake Bauers and shortstop Willy Adames. They even worked the PawSox so deep into their pitching rotation that the visitors had to pull second baseman Mike Miller in for relief in the final inning.
But the Bulls still came up short in a 6-4 loss Saturday night in the second game of a three-game series. The teams play again at 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
“This year they definitely have our number,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. Historically they do as well. Pawtucket now leads the series 92-63 dating back to 1998.
“They seem to match up well against us,” and have caught the streaky Bulls when they’re not playing their best ball, Sandberg said. They swept the Bulls in a four-game series at Pawtucket last week that “was tough on us.”
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The Bulls, still leading the International League South by 5.5 games, had their opportunities to add runs against a team that is two games below .500 at 24-26. But five times they stranded runners in scoring position.
“That’s the game,” Sandberg said. “Last night we got some big hits [with runners in scoring position] but each game’s different.”
PawSox reliever Marcus Walden (4-2) got the win. Bulls reliever Adam Kolarek (1-3) was tagged with the loss.
A week after twirling a complete game shutout for Boston against the Seattle Mariners, Pawtucket starting left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (2-0) was having a strong game for the PawSox. He whiffed five of the first seven Bulls he faced, while allowing a pair of singles. But on his second strikeout in the second inning, he suffered what appeared to be a leg injury and left the game.
The Bulls immediately jumped on PawSox reliever Chandler Shepherd for a 1-0 lead with back-to-back doubles down the left field line by left fielder Mike McKenry and second baseman Kean Wong.
Bauers slammed his sixth homer of the season in the third inning, a towering shot that tauntingly, lazily, carried into the right field seats for a 2-0 lead.
But Pawtucket tied the game in the fourth inning when right fielder Brian Bogusevic rifled a sinking liner that Bulls right fielder Mallex Smith attempted to catch on a running, forward leap. The ball bounced in front of his outstretched glove and scooted past him.
PawSox shortstop Ryan Court and left fielder Bryce Brentz, who both reached base on walks, scored on Bogusevic’s standup triple.
“Mallex is a tremendous defender, so I can’t fault him,” Sandberg said, conceding that it might have been a different game had Smith played the ball on a hop. “That’s a fast ballplayer trying to make a play.”
Court led off with a line drive double to left in the top of the sixth, and advanced to third on a single to right by first baseman Steve Selsky. Brentz grounded into a double play, but Court scored to give Pawtucket a 3-2 lead.
Pawtucket increased its lead to 6-2 on reliever Yoel Espinal’s shaky eighth inning.
Espinal surrendered a leadoff single to center by Miller. He hit center fielder Rusney Castillo with a pitch, then threw a wild to push the runners to second and third. He sailed another wild pitch, allowing Miller to score and Castillo to go to third. Selsky walked, and advanced to second on Espinal’s third wild pitch of the inning. Bogusevic then slammed a double to center to clear the bases.
Things kept going Pawtucket’s way in the bottom of the inning. Bulls first baseman Casey Gillaspie drew a leadoff walk, and McKenry laced what appeared to be a hit into the left-center gap. But a racing Brentz made a diving catch, came up throwing and doubled Gillaspie off first base.
“Gillaspie got caught too far out and couldn’t get back” on the slow-developing play that the umpire didn’t make a call on immediately, Sandberg said. “We had some poor communication there from the first base coach” not telling Gillaspie to slide back to first to beat the throw.
The Bulls added a pair of runs in the ninth inning when Miller was moved from second to the mound. He threw looping, fluttering pitches in the 50-mph range, and even struck out center fielder Johnny Field leading off.
But then Smith hit a single, and Adames launched his 2-run homer over the Blue Monster in left field to make it 6-4, before the comeback rally stalled.