DURHAM, N.C.—On paper, the main attraction in Saturday’s game between Durham and Charlotte was the pitching matchup. Brent Honeywell, the No. 22 prospect on BA’s most recent Top 100 Prospects list, took the rubber for Durham. He was opposed by Knights righthander Reynaldo Lopez, who checked in one spot lower at No. 23 on the list. And while both pitchers provided compelling storylines, they were approximately the 12th-most interesting thing that happened between the end of batting practice and the game’s final pitch.
Let’s start with batting practice. Charlotte’s hacks were cut short by an impending line of thunderstorms just before Yoan Moncada, the sport’s No. 1 prospect, could get in the cage. Annoying timing for the scouts on hand, but not anything wildly out of the ordinary. It is, after all, summer in the south. So on came the tarp, and on top of it a couple of tractors to keep it in place in case of high winds.
Then came the rain, which lasted roughly an hour or so. The field was ready by about 7:05, or a half an hour after the game was scheduled to begin. But once the tarp was removed and the field was lined and the bases replaced, the game couldn’t get underway. Unbeknownst to the anxious fans, the storm had caused the power in the park to fail. That meant that the video boards, computer systems and stadium lights, among other things, were out of service.
Also out of service was the stadium’s public address system, which meant that the Bulls had to get a little creative to notify the fans why the field was ready but no baseball was being played.
That’s when the police cars hit the field.
A pair Durham squad cars entered through the right field gates at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and slowly drove around the warning track until one car was parked next to each dugout. Then Bulls media coordinator Aaron Cox jumped back and forth between cars and used their PA systems to explain to fans exactly what was going on. It looked something like this.
When the power and the PA system out, you improvise. pic.twitter.com/z7UX8U3fu2
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) June 24, 2017
The power came back on seconds after the announcement in the above tweet, and the video boards and lights began to slowly kick back to life. The game began at 7:55, 80 minutes after it was scheduled. But the crazy was just getting started.
Lopez struggled to command his four-pitch arsenal, and when he found the strike zone he also found the barrels of the Durham hitters’ bats. He was obviously frustrated, and hit a boiling point when two consecutive borderline pitches were called balls three and four of a walk. After ball four he threw up his arms and gave the home plate umpire an exasperated glare. The two exchange words, and Charlotte catcher Roberto Peña had to go to the mound to calm Lopez, but he remained in the game until the end of the inning.
When Honeywell got two more close pitches called strikes in the next half-inning on Charlotte’s Cody Asche and resulted in Asche’s eventual ejection, Charlotte manager Mark Grudzielanek had seen enough. He gave umpire Charlie Ramos a prolonged piece of his mind and also was granted what turned out to be a very early shower.
Righthander Jake Dunning—the brother of fellow White Sox prospect Dane Dunning—took the mound in place of Lopez in the fourth and provided anything but relief. Ten hitters came to the plate against Dunning, and all 10 of them reached. Dunning’s night ended after Kean Wong, who’d led off the inning with a walk, doubled. It didn’t get much better from there.
Matt Purke replaced Dunning, and was greeted by a three-run home run to deep left field by Durham leadoff man Johnny Field. That gave the Bulls their ninth, tenth and eleventh runs of the inning and stretched the score to 17-0 with still nobody out in the fourth inning. Every Durham player scored in the fourth inning, which looked like this when all was said and done.
All the while on the other side, Honeywell had been shining. The righthander showed electric stuff all night long, with a fastball that touched as high as 97 mph and a quartet of offspeed pitches—slider, curveball, changeup and screwball—that kept that Charlotte hitters guessing incorrectly through the game’s first third. But while his teammates were shellacking Charlotte, Honeywell was sitting and waiting. And, as so often happens, he got out of sync.
He allowed a single to open the fifth and then walked the next three hitters—at one point throwing 11 consecutive balls—to force in a run. He got the next man to whiff then coaxed a double play out of Nicky Delmonico to end Charlotte’s threat. All this came after the trainer had to be summoned to the mound to administer eyedrops after a bug flew into Honeywell’s eye.
And while this was certainly one of the stranger games Honeywell had been a part of during his pro career, it wasn’t necessarily the strangest. He once got credit for two wins on the same day at high Class A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery after one of his starts with the Stone Crabs had been suspended by rain and then resumed after he’d been promoted.
He’d also come back to Charlotte one day to find what he estimated to be an 8-foot alligator in the home dugout. Still, Saturday night’s game was certainly up there.
“A lot of weird things happened tonight,” he said, “but good thing it came out on our side.”
And to top it all off, because he pitched three scoreless innings in relief and finished the game, Durham reliever Chih-Wei Hu got credit for a save. In a game that ended with a 17-3 final score. This, Honeywell noted, came a night after Rays reliever Austin Pruitt turned the same trick and earned a save in Tampa Bay’s 15-5 win over Baltimore.
The game that was billed for its potential for a pitching duel wound up as a series of one sideshow after another, proving once again that you just never know what you’ll see when you come to a ballgame.