Don’t count out the Durham Bulls. Not with so much at stake. Determined to not have a repeat of the previous night, Durham snapped out of their funk and rallied to defeat Gwinnett, 9-7.
At one point the Bulls (78-50) were down four runs to the Braves (64-63). In the first inning Gwinnett jumped out to a 3-0 lead and the feeling in the stadium felt eerily similar to Monday night, when the Braves whipped the Bulls, 9-0. But then, from somewhere, Durham got a spark and for the fans who stayed and watched, they were treated to an exciting finish.
“Six unanswered runs, we were down four twice, it was a good comeback,” Bulls’ manager Jared Sandberg said. “I think the offense was due after two shutouts. It was an incredible victory for us. Good team win.”
Sandberg said this win was all about the players. Players play, he said, and he became just as much as fan as the 5,431 in attendance after being tossed in the fourth. At that point Durham was down 6-2 and had very little life. But they kept battling and crept back into the contest. The Bulls trailed 7-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh, and that’s when they fought back, scoring four runs to tie the game.
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Patrick Leonard drove in the first run of the inning to score Willy Adames, and Johnny Field scored two with a double to make it 7-6 in favor of Gwinnett. With momentum taking a big shift, Durham took advantage of a wild pitch and an error in the field to tie the game, with Field just beating the throw home as he slid into the plate. Taylor Featherston pointed to that play at the plate by Field as one that lit a spark for the home team. But in his eyes the Bulls had been building up to that moment.
“We had a lot of quality at-bats up and down the order,” Featherston said.
Featherston’s RBI in the bottom of the eighth would be the final run of the night. After striking out three times, the 27-year-old felt he needed that type or pressure on himself to break out the slump.
“I needed a pressure-filled at-bat to get out of my own way,” Featherston said. “Bottom line, I wanted to try and help the team win a ballgame. The more you play you have one more (at-bat) coming around and it can always be the big one.”
Two sacrifice bunts - one by Adames, the other by Jake Bauers - set the stage for Shane Peterson to drive in a run to give the Bulls their first lead. Moments later Featherston’s single led to the final run.
The Braves scored at least one run in the first four innings, including an explosive three-run first inning to dominate the game early. Gwinnett’s Sean Kazmar, Jr., Rio Ruiz and Carlos Franco all drove in runs off of starter Ryan Yarbrough, and instantly the game seemed like a flashback to Monday’s game, a 9-0 Braves’ victory.
Gwinnett went up 4-0 in the second, but Durham managed to cut the lead in half, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second. Justin O’Conner and Mallex Smith drove in consecutive runs for Durham, but Franco hit a solo home run in the top of the third to push the Braves’ lead to 5-2. At that point it felt like the Bulls would dropped their third consecutive game, but they kept battling, and somewhere late in the game, the tide turned.
“Things didn’t start out great tonight, but we all found a second gear,” Bauers said. “We knew we were a way better team than what we were doing and I think that’s what you saw the second half of that game.”
Durham can wrap up the division title by winning one of the remaining two games against the Braves.