SYRACUSE, N.Y. --- Crowd morale was high in NBT Bank Stadium Thursday night for the rubber match in the series between the Durham Bulls (75-48) and the Syracuse Chiefs (46-78). However, the positive vibe soon gave way to an early offensive onslaught by the visiting team, which led to a 6-0 victory for the Bulls.
The Chiefs Honor the Orange
The customary red and blue of the Chiefs was replaced with a sea of Orange on Thursday night for the Syracuse University Athletics Appreciation night. The Syracuse Orange cheer and dance squads were spread out on the concourse to greet attendees with a smile and an Orange football t-shirt.
Fans cheered as head football coach, Dino Babers tossed out the "first football" to Chiefs pitcher Jaron Long, who wore an Orange football helmet. Athletics Director John Wildhack tossed a baseball, keeping with tradition.
With the pregame ceremonies over, it was time for the Bulls and the Chiefs to do battle.
Bulls Bats See Red
Esmile Rogers (1-2, 4.57 ERA) made his fourth start of the season for the Chiefs. Rogers struggled with his command early, leaving pitches over the heart of the plate and the Bulls immediately took advantage.
Taylor Featherston led off the game with a frozen rope into the gap for a double. Following a walk, Jake Bauers rifled the first pitch he saw to right, scoring Featherston. Next, Johnny Field launched a fly ball, which was caught on the warning track, but was deep enough for both runners to tag up and advance. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, Patrick Leonard smashed a line drive past shortstop, Bengie Gonzalez, driving both runners in.
"They came here to swing, they were aggressive," Rogers said. "When the game started, I didn't have my command, my cutter wasn't working like it was in the bullpen."
The Bulls were relentless in the first and the next batter, Shane Peterson, smoked a line drive down the third base line for a double, advancing Leonard to third. Mike McKendry then hit a towering sacrifice fly to left scoring Durham's fourth run of the inning.
Rogers settled in after the hectic first after receiving some advice from pitching coach, Bob Milacki and veteran catcher, Jhonatan Solano.
"[Milacki] and Solano came up to me and said, 'Your shoulder is flying open'," Rogers said. "I kept it closed and started commanding pitches."
Rogers ran into trouble again in the fifth, surrendering two more runs on a home run by Willy Adames and a RBI double by Leonard. He exited the game having given up six earned runs over four and two-thirds innings.
Yarbrough, Bullpen Stifle Chiefs
Lefthander Ryan Yarbrough got a look at the Chiefs earlier in the season, picking up a win against Syracuse at home on April 26. He gave up two runs in that outing. On Thursday, however, he bested that effort.
Yarbrough was locked in from the very first pitch.
"He threw anything, anytime he wanted to," Chiefs designated hitter Clint Robinson said. "Tough lefty, mixed up three, four pitches in the strike zone, kept us off-balance."
Cool, calm, collected, Yarbrough diced up the Chiefs lineup scattering five hits, shutting out the Chiefs over six-and-a-third innings while striking out eight. The outing lowered his ERA to 3.26 and was his team leading 13th win on the season.
The Bulls bullpen matched the quality exhibited by Yarbrough. Andrew Kittredge and Diego Castillo closed out the remaining two and two thirds innings only allowing two hits and struck out four.
Chiefs Bullpen Shines in Defeat
The pitchers who came in relief provided a lone bright spot for the home team. According to manager Billy Gardner, the early exit by Rogers was a blessing in disguise as a few of the pitchers hadn't thrown in several days.
"We needed to get them to touch the mound," Gardner said. "Getting them some work was important tonight."
The combination of Neil Cotts, Enny Romero, Cody Satterwhite, and Rafael Martin threw a total of four-and-a-third scoreless innings for the Chiefs. Romero, in Syracuse to rehab his strained forearm, pitched a perfect sixth. Satterwhite then came on and threw two scoreless, striking out a pair. Finally, Martin had his good stuff going, striking out two in his one inning of work.
Durham continues its road trip traveling to Moosic, Pennsylvania for a three game series against the first place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders.
The Chiefs stay at NBT Bank Stadium for a three-game set against the Indianapolis Indians. The Indians swept Syracuse at their home park last week and the Chiefs look to return the favor.