The Knights’ home finale Friday night had a little bit of everything – Cam Newton throwing out the first pitch, an early lead on one of the top prospects in the minors, a controversial home run that wasn’t, the grounds crew dancing to NSYNC in shirt and tie, a benches-clearing confrontation, and oh yeah, some post-game fireworks.
The only thing missing was a win after the Knights fell 9-4 to the Durham Bulls in front of 10,731, the largest crowd in BB&T BallPark history.
It was an action-packed end to the season at the ball park, which sold out for the 31st time this year and led the minors in attendance for the second year in a row.
Final season attendance was 669,398 through 71 games, just shy of the 687,715 the Knights drew in their inaugural season uptown last year.
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The loss, coupled with Norfolk’s win over Gwinnett, eliminated the Knights from the playoffs.
Benches cleared in the eighth after Knights reliever J.B. Wendelken threw behind Bulls’ Taylor Motter and was immediately ejected. Tempers were already hot between the two teams after the Knights hit five home runs Thursday and both Ryan Brett and Matt Tuiasosopo were hit by pitches.
Nothing but words were exchanged Friday, but the Bulls got the last one after Corey Brown hit a towering two-run homer off the roof over the home run porch in right field.
The Knights bullpen gave up four two-out runs to fall behind 7-2 before Matt Davidson cut it to 7-4 with a two-run homer to right field – his league-leading 23rd home run.
The Knights thought they had a 3-2 lead in the fourth on a home run by recent call-up Sean O’Connell on a ball that hit off the metal railing above the right field fence. The umpires ruled it hit below the yellow line, and O’Connell was thrown out at second.
Infielder Justin Sellers appealed from the Knights’ dugout, and pitcher Brad Penny came running out of the Knights clubhouse after seeing the replay, but manager Joel Skinner had no recourse other than to ask the umpires to confer, and the call stood.
Boog Powell hit a home run for the Bulls in the top of the fifth, not far from where O’Connell’s ball hit. Then Motter followed with a two-run homer in the seventh for a 6-2 lead.
Snell, one of Baseball America’s two finalists for minor league player of the year along with Astros’ prospect A.J. Reed, had not allowed more than one run in eight starts in Triple-A. The Knights got two off him in the first inning. But Terance Marin gave two runs back in the fourth after loading the bases on three straight hits.
Quote: “This is just a great venue for fans to watch baseball, and it’s an exciting brand of ball like you saw tonight with some home runs. I think two years in uptown has proven that the fans enjoy it, and the players feed off that." – Knights manager Joel Skinner.
Worth mentioning: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw out his first ever ceremonial first pitch, lobbing a ball for a strike to Sellers.
What’s next: The Knights hit the road for their final series of the season with three games against Gwinnett. Right-hander Hector Noesi (3-4, 3.51 ERA) faces Gwinnett left-hander Greg Smith (6-6, 2.55).