Upton blasts grand slam in Bulls home opener
B.J. Upton said everyone in the International League knows he has trouble with the inside pitch. After one dramatic swing of the bat Friday night, the Toledo Mud Hens would argue otherwise.
With a Durham Bulls Athletic Park record 11,060 fans on hand-including J.J. Redick, who threw out the game's first ceremonial first pitch-Upton delivered a two-out, walk-off Grand Slam in the bottom of the ninth inning off Mud Hen reliever Mark Woodyard to give Durham (8-3) a 5-4 win over Toledo (5-6) in the Bulls' home opener.
The Bulls dropped Friday and Saturday's games, however.
"It was my first Grand Slam and my first walk-off, and I helped my team win the game," Upton said. "It couldn't have come at a better time."
Friday, the shortstop's drive, which barely cleared the Blue Monster in left field, was the only pitch Upton saw from Woodyard.
"I'm really happy for B.J.," Durham manager John Tamargo said. "He finally turned on one. It was a great finish to a great game."
Entering his final at-bat, Upton was 1-for-3 with a single in the third inning. Facing a new pitcher in the ninth with the game on the line, he did not know what to expect.
"I didn't see it coming," Upton said. "He threw it and I just reacted."
For the first eight innings, Durham struggled mightily against Toledo's quartet of hurlers, amassing only one extra-base hit and leaving seven runners on base. Nonetheless, Mud Hens righty Lee Gardner walked three Bulls in the bottom of the ninth to load the bases for Upton.
"It was pretty exciting," Tamargo said. "They had us stifled all game, but we got guys on base at the end at the right time. I don't think I've ever seen a walk-off Grand Slam before."
The Bulls' spotty defense and Upton's heroics overshadowed a solid performance from starter Jamie Shields. The righty went 6.1 innings, allowing three unearned runs on six hits while striking out six and walking none.
"Jamie pitched great," Tamargo said. "He should have cruised through seven [innings], but he threw some extra pitches. He deserved to get off the hook."
Durham struck first in the bottom of the second, as Elijah Dukes scored on Shawn Riggans' double-play grounder to shortstop. Toledo responded by taking advantage of untimely errors by Upton and Bulls' third basemen Brent Butler.
In the fourth inning, with the Mud Hens trailing, 1-0, Toledo second basemen Kevin Hooper led off and reached base on Upton's wild throw. One batter later, Jack Hannahan knocked Hooper in with a single to center field, knotting the game at one. In the seventh, Butler's fielding error kept the Mud Hen inning alive, as two runners eventually scored to give Toledo a 3-1 lead.
Brian Peterson homered in the eighth off reliever Chad Orvella, providing the Mud Hens a comfortable 4-1 lead entering the ninth.
Nevertheless, Upton's ninth-inning blow quickly erased Toledo's advantage and sent the sellout crowd home with a victory.
Toledo bounced back over the weekend, however, defeating Durham 3-2 on Bart Miadich's wild pitch in the top of the ninth Saturday. In Sunday's contest, the Mud Hens topped the Bulls, 7-4.
The series comes to a close Monday at 1 p.m. Durham will send Edwin Jackson to the mound to face the Mud Hens' Zach Miner.