Jake Bauers didn’t make the game-saving catch but he did plenty on the game’s final play to seal a Durham Bulls 4-3 win over Charlotte Tuesday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
With two runners on and two outs in the ninth inning, the Durham left-fielder kept the ball from reaching the wall on Willy Garcia’s line drive toward the gap. He nearly caught it on the fly but it bounced off the heel of his glove and landed at his feet.
“He hit it well, he hit a little backspin line drive,” Bauers said. “I kind of got a good first step on it and got after it a little bit. I didn’t know if I was gonna get there. I ended up getting to it and kind of reached out for it, knocked it down. Unfortunately I didn’t catch it, but it was close.”
Charlotte’s Jose Vinicio trotted home from third base to cut the Bulls two-run lead in half. Meantime, Nicky Delmonico, who was running on the play, rounded second and was sprinting toward third base representing the tying run.
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Bauers quickly recovered from not making the play to pick up the ball and, in one motion, fire it back toward the infield.
“I was impressed with myself forgetting there,” Bauers said. “Luckily it fell in a good spot where I was able to pick it up and get it in there.”
Jake Hager, Durham’s shortstop, caught the ball as the relay man. He spun quickly to firing it home on the fly to catcher Mike Marjama. The ball easily beat Delmonico to the plate and Marjama applied the tag for the game’s final out.
“He threw a bullet right to Marjama,” Bauers said.
With that, Durham (5-1) continued its hot start to the season.
The game-ending play offered an exciting conclusion to a somewhat meandering game.
Bulls pitchers issued five walks, with starting pitcher Jake Faria issuing four in his five innings of work. But Charlotte managed only one run prior to the ninth inning.
Durham took the lead in the first inning when Johnny Field lined a lead-off home run off Charlotte pitcher Reynaldo Lopez.
The Knights tied the score in the fourth inning off Faria aided by two walks and an error at shortstop by Hager. Garcia’s single drove in the run for a 1-1 tie.
Durham regained the lead, this time for good, in the fifth inning when Field walked, stole second and scored on Bauers’ two-out, line-drive single down the line in right field.
After hitting four home runs and driving in 13 runs during an impressive spring training stint with the parent Tampa Bay Rays, Bauers was hitting just .208 through Durham’s first five games. He grounded out and struck out in his first two at bats against Lopez Tuesday night before collecting his RBI hit.
“I may have put a little too much pressure on myself just trying to obviously carry over what I did in spring,” Bauers said. “But I’ve just got to relax a little bit. I’m probably swinging too hard, trying to do a little too much. Once I relax and kind of settle in we’ll get rolling.”
Marjama pushed Durham’s lead to 4-1 in the sixth inning with a two-run home run to left field.
It took three Bulls relief pitchers to close out the win, with Ryan Wagner getting the save thanks to the relay throw executed by Bauers and Hager.
“For the defense to back the bullpen like they did and make a strong relay to the plate, that was pretty special,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said.