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Bulls' opener ends in delay

Thursday was Opening Day at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Today will be, too, as the game was suspended at the start of the 10th inning because of rain and will continue at 6 p.m.

With two outs in the top of the ninth and Toledo trailing by one, Mud Hen Marcus Thames capped a perfect 5-for-5 day with a dramatic home run to tie the game at five. The Bulls could not capitalize on two ninth-inning baserunners, as Jonny Gomes lined out and Earl Snyder grounded into a fielder’s choice.

The rain came as extra innings were set to begin, and 54 minutes later the game was called.

“Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come,” Toledo manager Larry Parrish said, “rain delay and extra innings all in the same day.”

The teams nearly avoided extra frames and the delay, as the Bulls held a one-run lead entering the ninth. Manager Bill Evers sent Durham’s career saves record holder Lee Gardner playing his first game with the Bulls since 2003 to the mound to attempt his 63rd save. After striking out leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson and forcing a weak groundout by Ryan Raburn, the Bulls seemed to have the game in hand.

But Thames had a different idea. He launched a towering home run on a 1-1 pitch over the leftfield wall to even the game at five.

“Thames swung it great; he’s a proven player,” Evers said. “[Gardner] has done it before, we hoped he’d do it again, but he just hung a curve.”

Durham was fortunate to have the lead going to the ninth. The Bulls took the lead in the bottom of the eighth on Snyder’s second double of the day, scoring Steve Cox from first. They had erased a 4-2 deficit in the three innings earlier with two Damon Hollins RBIs.

The Mud Hens took the lead early in the game mainly because of shoddy defense; Durham’s infield made five errors and allowed two unearned runs. Bulls starting catcher Pete LaForest overthrew a teammate in an attempt to throw out a basestealer twice. Shortstop phenom B.J. Upton, second baseman Luis Ordaz and first baseman Eric Munson each recorded errors during the first six innings.

“They helped us out a little bit,” Parrish said. “They think they shouldn’t be playing, and we wish we weren’t.”

After Snyder scored on a wild pitch to start Durham’s scoring in the second, Gomes launched a fourth-inning home run that drilled the oversized bull atop the leftfield wall, winning him a steak, according to Durham legend.

The Mud Hens jumped on the board quickly, scoring two runs in the second inning. Catcher Sandy Martinez added a third run on LaForest’s overthrow in the third inning, and Thames followed with an RBI single in the fifth that extended the lead to 4-2.

Durham’s starting pitcher, Brian Sweeney, struggled, giving up five hits and walking two in four innings. The middle relief held the Mud Hens in check, giving up one run over the next four innings.

“Our pitchers really battled to keep us in the game,” Evers said. “I hope the defense gets better, let’s just put it that way.”

The pregame ceremonies had all of the requisite pomp and circumstance of an Opening Day. While the sun was still shining, North Carolina basketball player and Durham native David Noel threw out the opening pitch, and soldiers unfurled a gigantic American flag in right-center field in front of an afternoon crowd of 5,047.

Thursday’s game will be finished today an hour before the scheduled game between the two teams.

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