Bulls sputter in title bid, must win Game 3 in IL finals

Rays shortstop Tristan Gray reacts after hitting his first career home run in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. (Julio Cortez / AP Photo)

NORFOLK, Va. – This isn’t supposed to be simple for the Durham Bulls.

They’ll have to go the distance in the International League championship series if they’re going to bring home the title.

“Nothing this season has come easy,” manager Michael Johns said after a 7-2 loss in Wednesday night’s Game 2 at Harbor Park. “Why would it not come down to Game 3?”

That’s the case as the Bulls and Norfolk Tides will meet in the decisive game Thursday night.

“It’s OK for (now). We got tomorrow,” Bulls third baseman Vidal Brujan said. “We win tomorrow and go to Las Vegas.”

That’s the site of Saturday night’s Triple-A national championship game.

Aiming to clinch a league championship for the third year in a row, the Bulls stalled. It took them too long to generate much offense, and towel-waving Norfolk fans in the crowd 8,120 enjoyed much of what they saw.

Bulls batters struck out 17 times – with 16 of those before their only two walks came in the ninth.

The Tides were retired in order only in the bottom of the eighth.

“We got our butts kicked,” Johns said of the necessary reaction from the team. “Get over it.”

The Bulls had 13 consecutive batters retired during one stretch, with the final eight of those going down via strikeouts by Tides reliever Austin Voth.

“You don’t see that often,” said Voth, who fanned nine in four innings.

Coby Mayo and Kyle Stowers slugged back-to-back home runs to lead off the Norfolk second inning off Durham starter Carlos Garcia.

Joey Ortiz sliced a single through a drawn-in infield with one out in the fifth for a two-run single. His double in the seventh made it 7-0.

Without going into specifics, Johns said the Bulls pitching is lined up. “We have the right guys (for Game 3),” he said.

Logan Driscoll’s home run leading off the eighth put the Bulls on the board, so that dashed the danger of being shut out for the second time in four games. Ronny Simon’s two-out dribbler later in the inning gave Durham its other run.

The rally ended with Tristan Gray, who has 30 or more homers two years in a row, flying out with two runners on base.

Ortiz, a second baseman playing for the first time in 3½ weeks as he came off an injury, made sterling defensive plays. Stowers went 3-for-3 and scored three runs.

Durham won Tuesday night’s Game 1 by 10-5, going ahead on Ruben Cardenas’ two-out single in the seventh inning and then scored six runs across the next two innings. Gray and Cardenas hit solo homers earlier in the game. Josh Fleming pitched two shutout innings with four strikeouts for the victory.