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DINGERS DAY AT PILOT MAKES SWEEP A BALL

FOR WEEKS, when the Bisons called Dr. Longball, the answer invariably would be a chilly "the doctor is not in."

Not only did the Herd fail to Go Downtown, they couldn't proceed much farther than the city limits.

Get all of it? They were happy to get a fraction of it.

Finally, the Demise of the Dinger, the Hunt for the Home Run ended in Pilot Field Wednesday afternoon during a double-header sweep, 4-1 and 1-0, over Buffalo's traditional rivals, the Rochester Red Wings.

The day not only started gloriously, it had a triumphant finish. In the second inning of the opening game, Tom Romano was followed by Jay Bell in hitting a home run over the left-field wall.

Two homers. Back-to-back. Consecutive. In a row.

It was the first time that has happened this season in Pilot Field. Later, Dann Bilardello hit another homer for the Bisons, making it the first time this season the Good Guys hit three home runs in one game at Pilot.

Finally -- talk about happy endings -- Bell hit a two-out, two-strike pitch over the wall in left-center to win the second game.

Going into Wednesday's play, the Bisons had hit 18 home runs in 43 games. That translates to one homer every 2.5 games. That also translates to dull and boring.

At least, it's dull and boring to Buffalo fans conditioned by the tradition of power hitting. Having a good time at the old ballpark meant watching sluggers clear the fences, from Ollie Carnegie in Offermann to Rick Lancelotti in War Memorial.

A couple of infield bleeders, a wild pitch and a run scored on a fielder's choice is not the locals' idea of thrilling baseball -- unless it's done often enough to produce something a lot better than a .500 won-lost record.

The main problem is that few players -- almost none of them in the minors -- are hitting many home runs in pro baseball this year.

Terry Collins, the Bisons' manager, is a man who likes to run and move the runners around the bases, but he, too, appreciates the benefits of the dinger.

"No question that it's a heckuva lot easier to win when you are getting the long ball," says Collins. "I make my assessment from my time managing Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast league, when we had Sid Bream (now a Pirate) and Franklin Stubbs (now a Dodger) hitting more than 30 home runs."

The Bisons' most representative long-ball threat, Orestes Destrade, was sold by the parent Pirates to a Japanese team last week.

Bell's two homers Wednesday tied him with Jeff King for the team lead with five. Five home runs do not conjure up memories of Luke Easter or Chet Laabs.

On the other hand, Pilot Field is not cut from the sort of dimensions that made Offermann so cozy for power hitters, and it bears no resemblance at all to the ersatz dimensions of War Memorial.

Still, last year's Bisons hit 89 homers, third in the American Association. Benny DiStefano, Tom Prince and Destrade all had plenty of pop in their bats.

Why such a power shortage in 1989?

"First, you have to give proper credit to the number of quality pitchers there are in baseball now," says Collins.

Collins' point was underlined by the quality work of his own Dorn Taylor and Morris Madden, who allowed only one run in the two games. Madden pitched a one-hitter. But it extends beyond that. The Syracuse Chiefs' pitching staff as a whole has an earned-run average of 1.96. Nine of the pitching staffs in the 16-team Triple A Alliance have ERAs under 3.50.

Remember all those home runs throughout organized baseball three years ago? Remember how the purists claimed that rabbits dwelt in the baseballs?

It's safe for the rabbits to return now. They would be protected as an endangered species.

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