The Buffalo Bisons had not scored a run in 17 1/3 innings and their opponents had scored first in four of the season's previous five games.
So when designated hitter Andy Abad cracked a three-run homer in the fourth inning that sparked Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Syracuse SkyChiefs, it was a big relief to a team struggling to find an offensive identity.
"I don't think there was a guy in our clubhouse thinking about scoreless innings, but it was a big hit for the team," Abad said. "It was off a tough lefty (Syracuse's Scott Downs) and it was a good pitch to hit. It was big to get off to a lead and that was the thing that took pressure off our pitchers."
The left-handed Abad pulled Downs' two-ball, one-strike delivery and got a boost from an 18-mph breeze blowing out to right field, an unusual sight in Dunn Tire Park. The ball landed in the first row of the right-field party deck to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead it would not relinquish.
"I didn't think it had enough," Abad said. "I thought it was over the right fielder's head, and I hit it on a line, so I wanted to get in scoring position. We've hit balls to left-center that haven't carried and so have the other teams."
"It took the pressure off of us offensively," manager Marty Brown said. "It's not a big secret we haven't done the things we thought we were going to do coming out of spring training but sometimes guys' numbers there don't mean a whole lot. Pitchers are trying to get velocities and pitch counts up, and you see a lot of fastballs."
Struggling against a steadier diet of offspeed pitching, the Bisons finished their opening homestand 3-3 but batted just .221 and scored only 22 runs. Outfielder Ernie Young, who is 9 for 18, is the only hitter doing much damage.
The top of the lineup has been anemic. Leadoff man Brandon Phillips was 1 for 5 and is batting just .136. No. 2 hitter John Rodriguez was 0 for 5 and is hitless in 20 at-bats. He hit .294 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs last year for Columbus. Veterans Mike Kinkade and Jeff Liefer are 4 for 18 and 4 for 21, respectively. Abad is only 3 for 17, and his homer snapped an 0-for-11 rut.
"It's a tough lineup when you look at it from an opposing pitcher's standpoint just on past history," Brown said. "But we still have to go out every day and prepare and get ready to compete. We'll figure it out."
Second baseman Jake Thrower gave the lineup a boost by collecting three doubles from the No. 9 slot in his first game with the team. Thrower, who had been in extended spring training rehabbing an injured knee, tied the franchise record for two-baggers set 15 previous times and drove in two runs.
"I was just happy to get out of Florida and contribute here," said Thrower, a .298 hitter last season for Salt Lake City in the Angels' chain. "It's so early that everybody is out there battling, but the pitchers sometimes seem to dominate this part of the season. But we're going to come through as a ballclub, and we're going to hit."
"Aside from that one game (Monday's 9-0 loss to Syracuse), our pitching has been outstanding," Abad said. "We've had good support from our bullpen and starters. The pitching staff has just got to bear with our hitters. The hitting will have its ups and downs. Hopefully more ups than downs."
Only about 500 fans braved the cold wind and weekday start time. There were 5,407 tickets sold. . . . Thrower was added to the roster because Danny Garcia was put on the disabled list due to shoulder soreness. . . . The Bisons open a six-game road trip at 6 tonight in Syracuse (Radio 1230 and 1330 AM). Lefty Brian Tallet (0-0) starts for Buffalo. The Herd will play two games in Syracuse and four in Pawtucket.