After losing his last 15 Triple-A starts dating back to 2002, Syracuse SkyChiefs pitcher Chris Baker finally came up a winner Monday at Dunn Tire Park.
Baker pitched two-hit ball through five innings while the Buffalo Bisons hitting woes continued in a 9-0 loss to the SkyChiefs in an afternoon game played in front of about 500 fans (5,362 tickets were sold).
The SkyChiefs (3-2) took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning when they blew open the game with five runs off starter Jeremy Guthrie (0-1) and reliever Dennis Stark. Syracuse tacked on two more runs in the eighth.
The Bisons (2-3), meanwhile, were limited to just four hits for the second time in three games. Two of the hits were by third baseman Mike Kinkade. The Herd, which was shut out only twice at home all last season, is batting a league-low .199, and the reason may be a lack of patience at the plate.
"You get behind in the count and we let (Baker) off the hook by getting ourselves out at swinging at a change up or a breaking ball," said Bisons manager Marty Brown. "Or we'll be out front and get back even with the count, so our hitters have to make the adjustment. We didn't have many guys who had much life in the dugout and some people have to walk through the door here and step up."
Baker (1-0) wasn't overpowering -- he struck out only three -- just efficient, and most of the balls were beaten into the ground.
"He pitched well and I'm really happy for him," said Syracuse manager Marty Pevey. "He's one of those kids who never shows any emotion. He always takes the ball and does whatever you ask."
Baker's stoic demeanor belied his true feelings last year when he struggled for the first time in his career. Initially, Baker wasn't pitching poorly -- he tossed 12 scoreless innings to start the season -- but he didn't receive much run support. In one of his first outings, he tossed a two-hitter and Syracuse lost, 2-0.
"I started to nibble a little bit and tried not to give up any runs thinking that was the only way to get a win," said Baker, who was a Triple-A record of 5-19. "You can't fall behind 2-0 on any hitter at this level, so today I was just trying to throw strikes right in the middle of the zone. The last few innings I started to get a little rhythm so hopefully it will carry over into the next game."
Baker finished 4-7 in Syracuse in 2002 and 0-1 in 2003 before he fell to 0-11 last season and his ERA ballooned to 6.75.
"I hadn't really had a bad year in my career," he said. "I never struggled and in the midst of all that, I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know how to bounce back because I never had to. It got to the point where I stopped taking phone calls from family because you get sick of hearing, 'Don't worry, you're good enough.' It was like quicksand, it kept getting worse."
Baker was sent down to Double-A New Hampshire where was 5-1 with a 3.09 ERA and helped the Fisher Cats win the Eastern League championship. His poise and self-assurance returned.
"The pitcher has to be the most confident guy on the field," he said. "Those wins and losses ride on your shoulders, not anyone else's."
Time for celebration?
"Yeah, there's a change," Baker said. "After any W, you have to feel great."
The Pitch: Kinkade got two of the Herd's four hits. . . . The Bisons were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. . . . Guthrie allowed five runs in six innings.
Fast Fact: The Bisons are hitting .199 for the season.
Next game: Today vs. Syracuse in Dunn Tire Park, 1:05 p.m.