LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Just as they did in Game Two of last season's Governor's Cup Playoffs, Durham jumped out to a quick lead against Louisville on Thursday night. Only this time, the Bulls made sure the lead held up. Justin Ruggiano had three hits and scored twice as Durham evened the best-of-five series with the Bats at a game apiece in a 6-2 win at Louisville Slugger Field.
The series now shifts to Durham for the weekend with Game Three on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. Game Four is scheduled for Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and, if necessary, Game Five will be on Sunday evening at 5:05 p.m. at Durham Athletic Park.
Similar to the fast start they enjoyed in Game Two a year ago, Durham wasted no time taking the upper hand against Bats starter Tom Cochran. Joe Dillon and Leslie Anderson lined back-to-back singles - four total in the inning - to push a pair of runs across with two-out.
Two-out rallies would be the theme all night as the Bulls found another way to scratch across a tally in the second. Cochran retired the first two batters before giving up a pair of free passes to the top men in the Durham line-up. His second and third walks of the game hurt as Ruggiano promptly lined a single to left to hand Durham a 3-0 lead after the second.
Louisville used the Durham blueprint to score their first run of the game in the third. After the first two batters were retired, Durham starter Aneury Rodriguez allowed two of his five walks in the game to consecutive hitters in Danny Dorn and Wladimir Balentien. Todd Frazier followed with a run-scoring single to left to get Dorn to the plate.
The inning continued with a walk to Sean Henry that loaded the bases and chased Rodriguez from the game. Bulls reliever Darin Downs entered to face Mike Constanzo who sent a deep drive to the warning track in right before it fell into the glove of the right fielder for the third out.
The Bats made a charge again in the fourth as Devin Mesoraco led off the frame with a double to the wall. He came around to score on Dave Sappelt's RBI groundout to get the Bats within a run.
It would be the closest Louisville would get.
Three straight hits to lead off the Durham fifth helped the visitors take control of the game with Ruggiano igniting the attack again. The Bulls centerfielder put himself in scoring position with a double to start the fifth. Chris Richard and Joe Dillon followed with RBI singles with the Richard hit driving the Bats' lefty out of the game.
Cochran (0-1, 11.25), who made his 2010 Triple-A debut for the Bats just six days ago, was charged with five runs - four scoring with two outs in an inning - on eight hits after facing just two batters in the fifth.
With the Bulls in the lead, Downs and the rest of the Durham relief corps shut the door quickly.
After Zack Cozart singled with two outs in the fourth, Downs (1-0, 3.86) retired the next four batters he faced including a perfect fifth to earn the win. He allowed a run on two hits in 2.1 innings.
Three Durham relievers followed as Jake McGee, Joe Bateman, and Winston Abreu combined for the final four innings of shutout baseball. Louisville didn't have a base runner reach in any of the final three innings after Kris Negron walked in the sixth. Cozart's single in the fourth was the Bats last hit.
Despite the offense's struggles, Louisville got a solid relief outing from Jerry Gil, who did not allow a hit and struck out two in two innings. Joe Krebs allowed a run in the eighth on two hits and Enerio Del Rosario tossed two frames, allowing both inherited runners to score in the fifth.
Durham wasted an early 2-0 lead last season, allowing the Bats to even the series. Thursday, the Bulls made sure their game two lead would send them back home with the series tied and a best-of-three to move on in the playoffs.
The series has been split at a game apiece in each of the last three years with Durham winning the series each of the last two years. Louisville will look to buck the trend in Game Three on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. RHP Matt Klinker (4-4, 5.85) gets the ball for the Bats trying to regain control of the series. RHP Alex Cobb (7-5, 2.71)* will make his Triple-A debut for the Bulls. Fans can follow the action live on Sports Radio 790AM WKRD or at www.batsbaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.