Four is still the magic number. Durham returned to the DBAP for the last regular-season homestand with hopes of clinching the International League South Division.
The Bulls need to win two of the four games against Gwinnett to lock up the Division. That magic number of four still remains the goal as Durham dropped the series opener to the Braves, 9-0.
The Bulls (77-50) can still turn this into a big week, but things did not get off to a good start. Starting pitcher Burch Smith, who was just assigned to the roster from Charleston on Monday morning, gave up three hits and two runs in his debut five innings of work.
Smith gave up a solo home run to Rio Ruiz in the second inning to spot Gwinnett a 1-0 lead. It was the first of three homers on the night for the Braves (64-62). Xavier Avery went yard on Chic-Wei Hu in the sixth inning, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead. Avery wasn’t done, nailing a three-run shot in the ninth for the final margin.
Durham’s best chance to get on the board and really turn the game around came in the second. Curt Casali drew a walk, then Shane Peterson hit a double, moving Casali to third with no outs. Taylor Featherston struck out, following by consecutive outs from Johnny Field and Kean Wong. At the time it was a one-run game, but the Bulls missed a golden opportunity to get on the board and take the lead.
“It’s two opportunities we’ve had the last two games, similar situations,” Bulls’ manager Jared Sandberg said. “We could have put some runs on the board and we haven’t capitalized. When the opportunities come up, especially with the offense sputtering a little bit, we need to take advantage of all the chances we’ve got. In that situation we were looking for balls to be put in play.”
Durham never recovered as Gwinnett scored four runs in the seventh to break the game open. It was the first time this season the Bulls have been shutout in consecutive games. Prior to Sunday, Durham had only been shutout three times this season. The performance was a shocker, considering the team was coming off a road trip where they went 4-2 and came home with something big to play for.
“We had a really good road trip,” Sandberg said. “Down the stretch it’s about winning baseball games. Tonight, unfortunately, that’s not how it ended. These guys have played good baseball all season long and it was just a tough two-game stretch for the offense, I’m not worried at all.”
The Bulls and Braves continue the series Tuesday with a 7:05 start time. Ryan Yarbrough gets the start for Durham. Aaron Blair starts for Gwinnett.