DURHAM — The Durham Bulls played their home opener on Thursday, a week into the minor league baseball season.
The wait was worth it, and there was a buzz in the crowd of 7,683, which was treated to a 4-0 Bulls' victory over the Norfolk Tides at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Not only was it a win, but the game seemed gift-wrapped, with a 70-degree temperature reading at first pitch, a cloudy sky splashed with blue and a sunset that reflected off downtown buildings before the glow of the lights took over.
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo was given an iPad 2 in a ceremony for winning the International League's Manager of the Year Award last season.
The gift was sitting unwrapped on his desk after the game. Montoyo planned to give it to his wife.
"I hope she wasn't watching the game," he said, joking.
Aside from the requisite pregame and in-between inning promotions, there was a decent baseball game, with a little bit of power, including a home run to center field, and a combined staff shutout from the Bulls, starting with Alex Cobb, who went six innings, produced 10 strikeouts and gave up only three hits for the win.
"I really enjoy throwing here," Cobb said. "Everything here, I like a lot. I'm real comfortable here."
Montoyo has only seen good things from Cobb, who also had 10 strikeouts in his Triple-A debut in September for the Bulls in a playoff game.
"I know he's going to help [the Tampa Bay Rays] in the big leagues one day," Montoyo said.
Former Carolina Mudcats pitcher Rick VandenHurk, now in the Baltimore Orioles' system, started for the Tides (1-7). He allowed a single run in each of the first three innings, though one was unearned, and another in the sixth inning.
First, leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings, one the Tampa Bay Rays' top prospects, singled, moved to second base on a wild pitch and scored on a single from fellow outfielder Justin Ruggiano.
Bulls third baseman Russ Canzler scored an unearned run in the second inning after walking and moving to third on two errors on a fielder's choice. Bulls second baseman Omar Luna drove Canzler in on a ground out.
The Bulls (5-3) added another run in the third inning, stringing together three singles. The third of those, by catcher Jose Lobaton, drove in outfielder Brandon Guyer.
VandenHurk settled down until the sixth inning, when he gave up a home run to Canzler, who cranked the 3-2 fastball over the center-field wall for his second long ball of the young season.
"He's got some pop," Montoyo said.
The night before, Canzler hit his other homer against 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, pitching in a rehab assignment for the Chicago White Sox.
"It's a pretty big honor to face a guy that's been a Cy Young winner," Canzler said. "He struck me out on my first at-bat. ... Any time you get a home run off a guy like that, it's pretty cool."
That was all for VandenHurk, who took the loss in lasting 51/3 innings, allowing four runs, three earned, six hits and throwing six strikeouts and two walks.
While the Bulls' Cobb lasted through six frames, reliever Mike Ekstrom kept the shutout going for another two innings, allowing no hits with three strikeouts.
Bulls reliever Brandon Gomes finished the game, getting the final three outs to end the game.
The Bulls, who had gone 4-3 in their season-opening seven-game road trip, have eight more games left in this homestand.
"I was happy with what we did on the road," Montoyo said, noting that he lost two pitchers to the disabled list, including staff ace Richard De Los Santos, injured Tuesday and the reliever who came in for him, Chris Bootcheck, who suffered a concussion when he hit his head on a pipe at the ballpark.
"He didn't know where he was," Montoyo said of Bootcheck.
The Bulls will face the Norfolk Tides at 7:05 p.m. today, the Gwinnett Braves for three games ending Monday and a four-game set with the Charlotte Knights that concludes April 22.
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