The finale of a Durham Bulls home stand that had seen nothing but success started with a continuation of that trend Sunday.
New lead-off batter Mallex Smith doubled and scored on a pair of ground balls to put the Bulls in front.
Starting pitcher Brent Honeywell looked well on his way to making that run stand up by retiring the first nine batters he faced.
In the fourth inning, though, it all came unraveled.
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Five of Buffalo’s first six batters of the inning reached with all scoring. Honeywell never finished the frame and the Bisons were on their way to a 6-1 International League baseball win before a crowd of 9,200 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
“That’s what happens,” Honeywell said of his shortest out of the season. “That’s what happens when you can’t put guys away and you get in deep counts. Not only does it put me behind the eight ball but it puts my guys behind the eight ball to win. They got me a run in the first and I give up five in the fourth.”
Making his third start with Durham since his promotion from Double-A Montgomery, Honeywell carried a decent 3.86 ERA into Sunday’s start as he aimed to help the Bulls add to their five-game winning streak.
But Honeywell said any success he’s had over those first two outs, covering 11 2/3 innings, hasn’t come easily.
“I haven’t felt good mechanically since I’ve been here,” said Honeywell, the Tampa Bay Rays 2016 minor league pitcher of the year. “I haven’t felt as good as I normally do.”
Smith, making his Bulls debut after starting the season in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, laced a line-drive double off the left-field wall to start Durham’s first inning. Groundouts from Willy Adames and Jake Bauers brought Smith home for a 1-0 Durham lead.
Honeywell only allowed three balls to leave the infield while retiring the first nine Buffalo batters. One of the few balls well struck against him early was a liner deep to centefield by Mike Ohlman that Smith caught while running into the fence.
But in the fourth inning, Darrell Cecilani singled and moved to third on Christian Lopes’ hard-hit double. Dwight Smith hit a fly ball to short left field that Adames ran down from his shortstop position. Still, Cecilani scored and Smith was credited with a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 1-1.
Honeywell walked Ohlman and gave up a Rowdy Tellez single loaded the bases. Jason Leblebijian’s line-drive double brought home two runs for a 3-1 Buffalo lead. With runners at second and third, Honeywell struck out Shane Obitz and appeared ready to escape without further damage.
But Jake Elmore’s single to right field drove in two more runs and Honeywell left the game with Durham trailing 5-1.
“They got him in the stretch,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said of Honeywell. “He got to two strikes he just couldn’t put anybody away. His offspeed stuff was up in the zone.”
Durham (16-7), which leads the International League South Division, was unable to mount any rallies against Buffalo’s pitching the rest of the game. The Bulls managed just four hits, only two coming after the first inning.