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Short-handed Bulls win Triple-A crown

Wild pitch in 11th inning proves to be difference against Memphis
September 23, 2009
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Durham lost 10 of its top players to the big league club or Team USA since Aug. 31, but the Bulls still managed to take home the Triple-A Baseball National Championship trophy.

The International League-champion Bulls beat the Pacific Coast League champs from Memphis, 5-4, in 11 innings in the fourth annual Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game in front of 6,777 fans at AT&T Bricktown Ballpark.

Durham ended the Pacific Coast League's three-game winning streak in the Triple-A title game and also kept Memphis from sweeping all seven of its postseason games.

In the bottom of the 11th, Michel Hernandez doubled to left-center field. He was replaced by pinch-runner Rashad Eldridge, the only player in the game who had played for the host city.

Eldridge took third on Royce Ring's wild pitch and then crossed the plate when reliever Oneli Perez's only pitch of the game also was wild.

"We hung together," said starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who was awarded the Bobby Murcer MVP trophy. "We didn't lose too much offense when we lost all those players (since Aug. 31), and we were never out of any ballgame."

Since the final week of the regular season, the Bulls had lost their only International League All-Star, outfielder Jon Weber, and relief pitcher Jason Childers (9-6, five saves), to the USA's World Cup team.

Tampa Bay has called up seven Durham players since Aug. 31, including home run and RBI leader Chris Richard, wins leader Wade Davis and saves leader Dale Thayer. And in the Bulls' run to the International League's Governors' Cup, they lost Thayer's successor, Winston Abreu, to an aneurysm in his pitching arm.

"It's a compliment to the whole team that the guys that stayed back did a helluva job," said Durham manager Charlie Montoyo.

"Because I played so many years in Triple-A, I made sure everybody played. So whenever somebody was called up, somebody else was ready to play. Nobody goes two days without playing. I did that all year, and I almost got everybody to play in this game."

Hellickson allowed two hits and a walk and fanned two over five shutout innings. He left with a 4-0 lead.

"This is definitely an honor, but anybody could have got it today," the right-hander said. "We played great, we played as a team. We went 11 innings, so everybody contributed."

Hellickson split time between Double-A Montgomery and Durham in the regular season. He posted a 9-2 record and 2.45 ERA overall. Batters hit only .178 against him and he averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

"Hellickson pitched lights-out tonight and all year," Montoyo said. "He did his job for five innings and that was good enough."

Memphis, the top farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals, tied the game with four runs in the first two innings after Hellickson left the game.

Durham's Ray Olmedo had two doubles, two walks, scored twice and drove in a run, Desmond Jennings was 3-for-5 with an RBI and Elliot Johnson had two hits and scored once.

The only player with more than one hit for the Redbirds was Allen Craig, who smacked a two-run homer.

Durham took a 1-0 lead on inning-opening doubles by Olmedo and Jennings in the third. The Bulls pounded Memphis starter P.J. Walters for three more runs on five hits to go up 4-0 in the fourth.

Memphis pitchers had allowed only 10 runs -- six earned -- in the Redbirds' six wins over Albuquerque and Sacramento en route to the Pacific Coast League title.

Memphis came back with three quick runs in the sixth inning when Jon Jay and Craig sandwiched home runs around a Tyler Greene single. The Redbirds tied the game on David Freese's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Bob Hersom is a contributor to