Bulls trudge back into town, having survived brutal stretch

Aug. 15, 2014 @ 06:55 PM

The Durham Bulls played 29 straight games without an off day earlier this season and it was seen as normal. But even in the context of Triple-A baseball, the team’s recent stretch of four doubleheaders in seven days stands out as one of the most exhausting in the team’s history.

The wild run included a game in which Durham was the visiting team in its own ballpark and another game in which the Bulls were the home team in Rochester. It also included a no-hitter, a game that ended after midnight, two 4 a.m. wake-up calls, an ejection for mild-mannered Durham manager Charlie Montoyo and a loss for Alex Colome in a game he pitched in 18 days ago.

Through it all, the Bulls went 3-5 in the four doubleheaders and stayed eight games up in the International League South prior to Friday night’s games as they go for their seventh division title in eight years.

“You’re almost playing to complete games — not even trying to win,” Montoyo said. “And that’s okay in Triple-A. But to do what we did and hang in there, that’s a great tribute to this team.”

The doubleheaders started on Aug. 7 when the Bulls hosted Buffalo. Besides a regularly-scheduled game, the teams also needed to make up a rainout on May 13 in Buffalo — which meant Durham would be the visiting team for a game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

After opening the Buffalo series with a doubleheader, the teams closed the series with another one on Sunday when Saturday’s game was rained out. In both cases, Durham lost the first game but won the second game 1-0.

After a 4 a.m. wake-up call on Monday, the Bulls headed to Rochester for another doubleheader. This time, they started by completing a game that began on July 24 in Durham, with the Bulls trailing 1-0 after three innings.

Colome and Rochester’s Trevor May were the starting pitchers when the game started in July. May had since been called up to the Minnesota Twins, but Rochester completed a no-hitter in his absence, making Colome the losing pitcher in a game that he didn’t participate in that day.

“Nobody feels sorry for anybody,” Montoyo said. “The other teams in our division want us to play doubleheaders every day.”

After a rainout on Tuesday, Durham had one final twinbill on Wednesday. It won the first game in 11 innings before losing the second game, which ended at 12:20 a.m. — but not before Montoyo was ejected for the second time in four years after Durham outfielder Justin Christian was hit for the second time in the series, causing the benches to clear.

Christian was suspended for Thursday’s series finale in Rochester, and all the games left Montoyo with just four position players. But Merrill Kelly pitched six shutout innings, saving the bullpen, and the Bulls exploded for 18 hits in a 9-0 win.

The Bulls then got another 4 a.m. wake-up call Friday before coming back to Durham to start a three-game series with Charlotte.

Infielder Vince Belnome said the last time he played so many games in a week was when he played travel ball as a 12-year-old.

“It was a mental battle,” Belnome said. “It does take a lot out of you.”