LAWRENCEVILLE — Hoping for a walk-off win against the Durham Bulls, the Gwinnett Braves were forced to deal with a walk-off loss — at least, in a manner of speaking.
G-Braves pitchers issued seven bases on balls, all of which came home to haunt them by scoring, and Durham held off a ninth-inning rally with the tying and winning runs on base to escape with a 7-6 win before 5,469 fans Friday night at Coolray Field.
The loss may very well have symbolized the G-Braves’ season.
It dropped them to 23-35 in one-run games this season, and assured them of their worst record in their five seasons in Gwinnett as they close out the home portion of their 2013 schedule tonight at 7:05 against Durham.
“I don’t know if it’s a microcosm of the season,” G-Braves manager Randy Ready said. “But if you look at it, if you’re running away with the (International League’s South) division like Durham, you learn a lot more under these kind of circumstances.
“I don’t know exactly what the record is in one-run games, but we’re leading all of baseball (in one-run losses), that’s for sure. A hit here or a pitch there, and it could be a whole different story in all those games.”
The G-Braves fell into an early hole when Durham struck for RBI singles from Vince Belnome and Cole Figueroa, both of whom walked, to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
But they answered in the bottom of the inning with some clutch two-out hitting against Matt Moore, who was making an injury rehab start while on the disabled list from the Tampa Bay Rays.
With runners on first and third and two out, Brandon Boggs actually got a bit of a bad break.
The rightfielder’s liner to straightaway center bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double, with only one run scoring instead of the two that would have scored had it stayed in play, to cut the Durham lead in half at 2-1.
But Jose Yepez made the point moot when he lined a Moore offering into left for a two-run single to vault the G-Braves in front 3-2.
However, that unfortunately luck would return with another bad bounce with the game tied at 4-4 in the top of the seventh.
After reliever Mark Lamm walked the bases loaded with one out, the right-hander battled back to retire Shelley Duncan on a pop up to short for the second out.
G-Braves manager Randy Ready went to the bullpen and called on lefty Ryan Buchter, who got Figueroa to sent a pop down the left-field line.
But a sprinting Jose Constanza couldn’t get to the ball, which landed inches in fair territory and took a high bounce and deflected off the railing of the stands and stayed in the field of play, allowing Figueroa to stand at third with a triple and all three runners to score to give the Bulls a 7-4 lead.
The G-Braves had one last rally in them in the bottom of the ninth, which began when Tyler Green reached on a lead-off single and came home when Sean Kazmer doubled to the wall in left-center to cut the Durham lead to 7-5.
After Constanza flied out to left, Todd Cunningham drew a walk and Phil Gosselin followed with an RBI single to right to pull Gwinnett to within 7-6, and put the tying and winning runs on base.
Ernesto Mejia twice looked like he had at least tied, and perhaps even won the game.
First, the 27-year-old first baseman sent a drive of home-run distance less than five feet wide of the left-field foul pole, and then sent another shot down the left-field line into the corner that landed just inches foul.
Finally, Durham pitcher Kirby Yates struck out Mejia on a check swing on a breaking ball in the dirt, and then fanned Boggs to end the threat, and secure his 19th save of the season.
Constanza finished the night 3-for-5, while Gosselin, Boggs and Kazmer each added two hits for the G-Braves, who outhit Durham 12-7.
Figueroa led the Bulls’ offense by going 2-for-4 with four RBIs, while Duncan was 1-for-3 with two RBIs.