DURHAM — In his preseason breakdown of his team, Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo said outfielder Jerry Sands was a Bulls killer a year ago when he played for the Indianapolis Indians.
Maybe hell continue to do well in this ballpark, Montoyo said.
Sands, a former Smithfield-Selma High star, went 3-for-3 and scored three runs in his Bulls debut, including a game-tying home run and a double, as Durham rallied past the Gwinnett Braves 7-6 on Thursday night in its International League season opener.
Aerial displays were all the rage at Durham Bulls Athletic Park a pregame flyover of vintage planes, a postgame fireworks display, and some in-game fireworks as well.
The Bulls lit up the night sky by belting three home runs to spoil the homecoming of Braves manager Brian Snitker, who managed the Bulls in the 1980s and coached for them in the 1990s.
A crowd of 9,483 turned out to watch the 2013 Governors Cup champions in their season opener, which pitted recently acquired Bulls right-hander Nathan Karns against Braves right-hander Gavin Floyd, who is getting in some rehab work before an expected call-up to Atlanta. Neither pitcher lasted long.
Karns, who pitched as a freshman at N.C. State before transferring to Texas Tech, walked seven batters and allowed six runs, five earned, in 2 2/3 innings. He labored in the first, throwing 28 pitches. He gave up two walks before surrendering a one-out, three-run homer to left center by Ernesto Mejia on an 0-2 pitch. Mejia, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound first baseman, clubbed 28 homers for Gwinnett a year ago.
Kevin Kiermaier, making his Bulls debut, got two of those runs back when he lined a homer to center following a leadoff walk to Jerry Sands in the second, Floyds last inning of work.
Karns walked five more in the third, when the Braves pushed across three runs. And it could have been worse, except the Bulls threw out two runners at the plate. Jose Constanza led off with a walk, stole second for the second time and went to third on a passed ball. Todd Cunningham then walked and reached second on an attempted steal when the Bulls botched a rundown, with first baseman Sands being called for interference.
Mejia and Tommy La Stella walked to force in a run and make it 4-2 before Joey Terdoslavich stroked an RBI single to left. Sands threw out a runner at the plate on Edward Salcedos bouncer to first, but Mark Hamilton singled to right to up the count to 6-2. Right fielder Mike Mahtook gunned down La Stella with a one-bounce strike to the plate.
The Bulls added a run in the fourth off reliever Yunesky Maya when Sands doubled into the left-field corner and came home on Mahtooks single to right.
The big fireworks came an inning later. Cole Figueroa doubled for the second time in three at-bats, and Wilson Betemit hit a home run over the bleachers in right field.
That blast finished Maya, but the Bulls werent done. Two pitches later, Sands lofted an opposite-field homer to right to tie the score at 6-6 off the Braves third pitcher, Luis Vasquez.
Sands figured in the go-ahead run in the seventh, too. Figueroa singled for his third hit, stole second and went to third on Sands sharp single to left.
Kiermaier then bounced back to Mark Lamm (0-1), the fifth Braves pitcher, but he could only get the out at second when Sands hard slide broke up the double play, allowing Figueroa to score what would be the winning run.
The win went to Brad Boxberger (1-0), the fourth of five Bulls pitcher. He went 1.2 scoreless innings, striking out. Kirby Yates pitched the ninth for the save.
NOTES: Friday nights pitching matchup has left-hander Enny Romero (11-7, 2.76 in AA) going for the Bulls against major league veteran Ervin Santana (9-10, 3.24). The Braves signed Santana in late February. The rest of the four-game series has Bulls right-hander Matt Andriese (3-5, 4.45 in AAA) and Braves lefty Daniel Rodriguez (3-3, 5.77 in AAA) on Saturday, and Sundays 1:05 p.m. game pits Bulls lefty Mike Montgomery (7-8, 4.72 in AAA) and Braves righty Mitch Atkins (5-2, 3.47 in AA). The Charlotte Knights are in town Monday to begin a four-game series. Major league veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (4-12, 4.59) will pitch for Durham against lefty Charlie Leesman (4-3, 3.87 in AAA).