Sometimes you don’t have to hit it hard, or even far, to win the game.
Durham outfielder Jake Bauers got just enough of a slider to get by Lehigh pitcher Yacksel Rios to score Mike McKenry, giving the Bulls a 4-3 walk-off win over the IronPigs.
The game-winning single by Bauers, his second hit of the game, just barely made it past the outstretched glove of Rios. Bauers then beat the throw to first, setting off a celebration in the outfield as Durham (61-39) picked up a rare Sunday home win. The Bulls are 6-10 on Sunday’s this season, but head to Buffalo with a little life after the win.
“It definitely gives us momentum, especially knowing we are going to play them at the end of next week,” catcher Curt Casali said. “That’s a good ball club. There’s a reason they’re in the spot they are in and we saw that in this split. We’re happy with the win going into the road trip.”
Durham and Lehigh (62-39) split the four game series over the weekend, but saved the most entertaining game for last.
The two teams battled back and forth, with the Bulls taking a 1-0 lead after an RBI from Johnny Field in the first, only to allow the IronPigs to tie the game 1-1 in the second. A solo home run from Lehigh’s Brock Stassi gave the visitors a 2-1 lead, but Casali put Durham back on top with a two-run homer in the sixth. It was his second home run this week, one of the best stretches of the season for the California native.
“It’s nice when my work off the field pays off,” Casali said. “I’ve been waiting for a spurt like this all season. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
The Bulls had to dodge a bullet in the seventh when Durham relief pitcher Jose Alvarado loaded the bases with no outs. A wild pitch in the seventh allowed the IronPigs to tie the game at three, but Alvarado was able to get out of the inning without allowing another run. He got some help behind him, thanks to a 4-6 double play in the field to end the inning.
“That was huge,” Durham manager Jared Sandberg said.
The Bulls had a chance to pull away in the eighth, but couldn’t take advantage with the bases loaded. Jake Hager got a solid hit, but popped out to center field, leaving three on. After a three up, three down top of the ninth for Lehigh, Durham was able to capitalize in the bottom of the inning to secure the win. With McKenry on third thanks to a wild pitch and Willy Adames on second, Bauers, whom Sandberg said had a flair for the dramatic, lived up to that claim.
“I was just trying to put something in play, first and foremost,” Bauers said. “It was a good pitch and luckily it got right by the pitcher.”
As soon as he hit it, Bauers felt like it could get away from Rios and he could beat the throw to first, which he did in plenty of time. Next up was beating his teammates to the outfield for his custom walk-off celebration.
“Anytime you hit a walk-off, no matter if you hit it 1,000 miles per hour or two miles per hour it’s a chance to celebrate,” Bauers said. “I always try to have fun with it, whether I hit it or somebody else, overall it’s just a fun situation. I like to run around a little bit and see who can catch me.”
It looks like the rest of the International League South Division will have a hard time catching the Bulls, who came into Sunday 11.5 games ahead of Gwinnett. Durham now embarks on a seven game road trip, first stopping in Buffalo, before a three-game series at Lehigh.
Diego Castillo (1-1) got the win for the Bulls. Castillo pitched 2.0 innings, striking out three. Starter Brent Honeywell went five innings, striking out a season-high 11. Yonny Chirinos (10-3) gets the start Monday at Buffalo.