Hurricane, What Hurricane? Durham One Win Away from AAA Title Upset

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Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, Sept. 14.
The playoffs were set in the AAA International League. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders would play the Durham Bulls. The first two games would be played in the Scranton area, the last 3 would be played in Durham, NC in their relatively new stadium. But wait … stop the presses.
As early as last Monday, meteorologists were forecasting a bad storm in the Carolinas, though they couldn’t be sure. Now of course, we know. Because of Hurricane Florence, North Carolina is getting hit like Joe Frazier got hit by George Foreman. But back when nobody was sure whose turn it was to face the hurricane, the International League did some quick unusual thinking. That’s not a guarantee in baseball at any level. Look how long it took to bring in batting helmets–and black players. Think how long it took for players to fly instead of riding trains and breathing diesel smoke. The phrase “thinking outside the box” was unknown in Grandpa’s time but if it had existed baseball executives would have stomped it out of existence.
The International League did what was right. They declared that all games in the Scranton-Durham series would be played in the Scranton area. Whatever the Durham Bulls (who happen to be the AAA Rays) thought about the shift, they let it go and set out to win a league title. Tonight they’re a game away from defeating the RailRiders, the AAA Yankees in their house.
The host team won game 1 by a 3–2 score behind the pitching of former Yankee big leaguer Domingo German and future Yankee hopeful Justus Sheffield. That’s where things went wrong for SWB. They lost game 2 5–2 in a game where Durham was ahead from Jump Street, got a 5-0 lead and only gave up 2 runs in the 9th. Last night, in game 3 the Bulls acted as the home team and won again, 3–0. The Railriders had their chances as they collected 7 hits in the game. But the Bulls put up a run in the first and 2 more in the second against Yankees’ prospect Mike King. The prospect went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and a walk. Phil Diehl was able to keep his team in the game as he made his AAA debut from the bull pen. King’s foe, Chih-Wei Hu was that much better. He gave up 6 hits and walked nobody while striking out 6. He got the run support which King didn’t. King can message Jacob DeGrom to ask how that feels.
The first run scored on a groundout after back-to-back singles. The Bulls’ Brandon Snyder homered to lead off the second. King appeared to recover as he got the next two men. However, Jason Coats singled and Jake Cronenworth doubled him home for the third and last run. It was more than enough with Hu pitching and Kyle Bird coming on to get the last 6 outs. In game 4, the Railriders are handing the ball to Ryan Bollinger against the Bulls’ Andrew Moore. Should Durham win, it would be back-to-back Governor’s Cup titles and it would make 6 championships since the Bulls moved to AAA.
Bollinger has one of the colorful stories that draw fans to this game. The Yankees have had him on the big league roster but not found a place to use him. He was a 47th-round draft choice of the Phillies in 2009. The draft doesn’t even last 47 rounds anymore. He was drafted as a first baseman but turned to pitching when the Phillies let him go. He learned to pitch first in the independent Frontier League, then for 3 years in the lower reaches of the White Sox organization, riding those eternal bus rides to places that don’t sell souvenir post cards. In 2011 and 2012 he played on short-season teams and had to work in between seasons. His first full season was in 2013 with the Kanapolis Intimidators of the South Atlantic League. He split 2014 between the St. Paul Saints and the Winnipeg Goldeyes, both former Northern League teams now playing in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. All I can say to that is, I hope he got to eat both goldeye and walleye while staying in those two cities. He spent the next two years in the Canadian American Association league playing for a team in Quebec. As if southeastern Canada wasn’t far enough away from his native Minnesota, Bollinger played 2017 in Germany, then in Australia. That got him a chance in the Yankee system. He’s pitched in both AA Trenton and with the AAA Railriders. In AA he was 8–5 with a 4.00 ERA over 17 starts. Against stiffer competition at AAA he was 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in just 3 starts. For the Railriders to survive and play tomorrow night, they’ll count on the six-five, 230-pound lefty Ryan Bollinger.

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