Nursing a six-run lead heading into the final inning, Durham didn’t change its approach one bit when visiting Norfolk pulled to within two runs. The message was clear: everybody just relax and do what got them to that point.
The Bulls closed out the Tides, holding on for for a 6-4 win, improving to 2-1 in the current homestand with Norfolk.
Durham (43-28) improved to 36-0 on the season when leading after six innings and 31-12 when they score first. That 36-0 mark might have appeared to be in danger when the Tides (30-42) made it a 6-4 game after a two-run home run from Johnny Giavotella. However, Durham knew to just keep their cool and finish strong.
“No, we still had a couple of runs on them in the ninth with one out,” Shane Peterson said. “It was not really something you can think about, especially on defense. I know pitchers have their own mindset, but obviously our bullpen has been great this year. There really are no worries.”
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After surrendering the homer to Giavotella, Neil Wagner closed out the game when Chris Dickerson popped out and then fanned Francisco Pena, Wagner’s lone strikeout in relief duty. Blake Snell picked up the win, improving to a perfect 5-0. It was Snell and his eight strikeouts (third time this season) that allowed the Bulls to get out to a comfortable 6-0 advantage. Snell gave up six hits and one run — a solo homer to Pena in the sixth — before retiring for the day. By that point, though, Durham had already shown it was going to be a good day at the plate, exploding for three runs in the second, when they tuned up Jayson Aquino for five hits.
Casey Gillaspie (3-for-4), Curt Casali (2-for-4) and Kean Wong (2-for-4) each drove in one run in the inning to put the Bulls ahead 3-0. After a quiet third, Wong drove in two more runs with a single, his 12th multi-hit game this season. Durham manager Jared Sandberg said it was pleasing for the team to see Wong get it going offensively.
“For Kean it’s a tale of two seasons,” Sandberg said. “Coming to Triple-A and playing everyday, he put a lot of pressure on himself and went back to Double-A. Now he came back here a different player. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and since he’s been back here he’s been very impressive.”
Wong, who spent 15 days in Montgomery last month, has been much more comfortable in his return role to Durham. The 22 year-old drove in a run his first at-bat, giving him some confidence the rest of the day at the plate and in the field.
“I was seeing the ball well,” Wong said. “Jayson Aquino is a really good pitcher, but I was seeing the ball well out of his hand and had a good day and we had a good win.”
Peterson put the final run on the board for Durham in the fifth inning, a single to score Gillaspie. The Bulls would only get one more hit the rest of the way - a single from Casali in the eighth - but their cushion, and some good defense, was more than enough to hold on for the win. Defensively, Johnny Field and Willy Ramos made a pair of highlight reel plays to spark the team, including an impressive, though unorthodox 8-5 put out from Field.
“You don’t see that very often,” Sandberg said. “It was definitely a big play.”
Adames had a couple of nice stops from his shortstop position, first in the third inning to throw out Sharlon Schoop, then again in the sixth. Plays like that, Wong said, gets everyone going.
“It fires everyone up just to see him make that play,” Wong said. “You come up next and you’re like ‘I want to make that play.’”
Relief pitcher Diego Castillo (1.1IP) stepped up big for Durham, pitching out of a jam once Norfolk loaded the bases in the top of the seventh. Bulls’ pitcher Brent Boxberger walked a batter to make it 6-2, and Castillo stepped in and got Pedro Alvarez out to save the day. Snell came close to allowing a run on the board in the fifth, when Luis Sardinas singled and Schoop hit a double. Snell wouldn’t give up another hit as Mike Yastrzemski popped out and Snell stuck out Giavotella and Dickerson. For the day, Norfolk went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
Even with a late lead and zero’s on the scoreboard for the Tides, Durham never lost its competitive edge.
“We played solid defense,” Sandberg said. “We just continued to pound the strike zone for the most part and pitched out of some jams.”
Durham improves to 6-4 this season versus Norfolk and 4-3 at the DBAP.