LATEST LOSS LEAVES HERD ON BRINK - The Buffalo News

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LATEST LOSS LEAVES HERD ON BRINK

Talk about trouble. The Buffalo Bisons are in a heap of it today.

After gift-wrapping a 5-3 win for the Indianapolis Indians Thursday in Game Two of the American Association Eastern Division finals, the best team in Triple-A baseball is one loss away from being swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

Indianapolis now leads the best-of-five series, two games to none. Buffalo hasn't won three straight games over Indy since May 13-15, and the teams have played 16 games since. But a quick winning streak is the Herd's only chance if it wants to earn the franchise's first championship since 1961.

Buffalo now pins its hopes on right-hander Joe Roa, the starting pitcher tonight when the series returns to North AmeriCare Park for Game Three (7, Radio 550). Right-hander Tim Pugh -- who is on a 17-inning scoreless streak -- starts for Indy.

The Tribe has won six straight games against the Bisons and nine of the last 10 between the teams.

"We just haven't played well," was the simple but brutally accurate assessment of Buffalo manager Brian Graham. "Our pitching hasn't been outstanding by any means and our defense hasn't been good fundamentally. We're missing cutoff men, throwing balls away, not blocking balls. Physical mistakes are certainly costing us."

"It's been real frustrating," added third baseman Don Sparks. "Their pitching has been doing the job and we haven't driven in runs. It's been little things here, little things there. I don't know if that's home-field advantage or what."

The Bisons scored three runs in the fourth off Indy starter Larry Luebbers to take a 3-0 lead. But the Tribe rallied with a run in the fourth, two in the sixth and single tallies in the seventh and eighth.

"It's been a nose-to-the-grindstone thing where we keep scrapping," said Indy catcher Joe Kmak, whose two-
out single in the sixth off reliever Darryl Scott forged a 3-3 tie. "Guys are taking it upon themselves to get the job done."

Third baseman Ruben Santana, called up from Double-A Chattanooga last weekend, went 2 for 4 and has three hits in the two games after going just 1 for 14 with Indy in the regular season. Decomba Conner, a call-up from Class A Winston-Salem on Tuesday, went 2 for 5 and had a key RBI single in the eighth to drive in an insurance run.

The Bisons committed two errors that figured in the scoring and were guilty of several other fundamental bloopers. The roll call of ugliness:

Right fielder Tom Marsh foolishly threw home on Santana's RBI single in the sixth. That allowed Santana to move into scoring position, and he then scored on Kmak's two-out RBI single to left.

First baseman Geronimo Pena overthrew the bag at second in the eighth after Greg Cadaret had Brandon Wilson picked off. The throw sailed into left field, allowing Wilson to get a stolen base. He then scored on Conner's single. Bruce Aven's one-hop throw to the plate beat the runner in plenty of time but couldn't be fielded by catcher Tom Wilson.

Wilson couldn't get a bunt down in the eighth after Aven led off with a single and the Herd down only 4-3. Wilson eventually worked the count full and took ball four as Aven slid into second. But wait a second, or maybe two. That's how long it took first base umpire Eric Cooper to call Wilson out on appeal -- and make Aven the victim of a rally-killing double play on the steal attempt.

"I'm not allowed to comment on that because I'll get reprimanded by the league," Graham said. "But not getting the bunt down was part of our execution problems."

The official errors were also killers. Scott made one in the sixth on an errant pickoff throw, and Kelly then scored Indy's second run on Santana's hit. Wilson was charged with one in the seventh as Frank Kremblas stole second and went to third when the throw careened into center field. Tim Belk's deep sacrifice fly then put Indy up, 4-3.

The Bisons had just six hits off Luebbers and Jerry Spradlin, with four of them coming in the third. Singles by Ryan Thompson and Steve Dunn highlighted the rally.

Bisons starter Jimmy Williams was relieved after yielding Mike Kelly's single to lead off the sixth. It was the shortest outing in the last five starts for the left-hander, who led the Herd with 12 wins.

Williams' friends couldn't support the lead and the Herd now returns home as a desperate team.

"This has to become a one-at-a-time thing instead of thinking about three in a row," Sparks said. "We've won three games in a row plenty of times, so we have to battle every single inning and try to start it again."

"We have to channel our frustrations and energies," Graham said. "There's a lot of frustration in this clubhouse and with good reason. Watching what happened tonight, there are a lot of guys who should be upset."

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