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Loewen powers big comeback; Ex-pitcher slugs 2 homers for Herd

Babe Ruth famously went from big-league pitcher to hitter. In modern times, Rick Ankiel has done it. That's about all.

So Buffalo Bisons fans should show great curiosity and appreciation for how tough this conversion is when they watch hurler-turned-outfielder Adam Loewen at the plate in Coca-Cola Field this season.

A former first-round draft choice and starter in the Baltimore Orioles rotation, Loewen got 32 at-bats last year for the Toronto Blue Jays after a huge season at Triple-A Las Vegas. He's trying to make similar inroads with the New York Mets.

A 6-foot-6, 235-pounder with good power, it's easy to see how he can succeed. Loewen mashed two home runs Sunday, including his first professional grand slam, and drove in six runs as the Bisons roared from way back for a 10-9, 10-inning win over the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Buffalo won it as Jordany Valdespin singled home catcher Rob Johnson from second base with one out in the 10th, and the bullpen tandem of Jack Egbert and Fernando Cabrera finished with 4 2/3 no-hit innings.

But the seeds for the Herd's largest comeback win in four years as a Mets affiliate were sown by Loewen's two-run homer to right in the fourth that cut a 6-0 deficit to 6-2, and his two-out grand slam in the sixth that turned a 9-4 game into a 9-8 nailbiter.

Loewen was just 4 for 27 with a homer in his first eight games this season before breaking through Sunday for three hits. It was Loewen's fourth career two-homer game since making the conversion in 2009. He had one other six-RBI game, for Double-A New Hampshire in 2010 against Harrisburg.

"It's been a short amount of games for me. I look at it more that the breakthrough was our comeback victory," said Loewen, 28. "To pick up the pitching staff like that is going to help us out a ton as far as confidence the next couple of games."

Loewen made major headway last year at Las Vegas under former Buffalo manager Marty Brown. He batted .306 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 46 doubles, 17 homers and 85 RBIs and got the call to Toronto.

Loewen was a first-round pick of the Orioles in 2002 and made 29 starts for them from 2006-2009, posting an 8-8 record with a 5.38 ERA. A pair of fractures in his left elbow ended his career and got him thinking about a return to hitting, where he was a legend as a high schooler in Surrey, B.C., near Vancouver. He did it with the Blue Jays, his favorite team growing up.

"My first year was really difficult," Loewen said, recalling his .236 average in 2009 at Class A Dunedin "I did not play well at all and I had not swung a bat in five years. I was completely starting over again."

"It tells you something about his perseverance but also about his athletic ability," said Johnson. "To have that good of an arm to be a pitcher and then turn around and come back as a hitter is a testament to how those guys go about their business the right way and continue to pursue the dream of playing in the big leagues."

Loewen has plenty of power, as shown when he turned on an 2-0 fastball from Pawtucket reliever Tona Pena Jr. (son of the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer and longtime big-leaguer) and drove it deep into the party deck in right.

"It was a huge boost for us, gave us a lot of energy in the dugout and that's what we were looking for," he said. "It was dead in there previous to that. It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me. It's good to help the team win and just give everybody that extra boost."

Reminded he's hoping a grand slam is not a once-in-a-lifetime thing, Loewen laughed sheepishly.

"So far it has been," he said. "I'm never thinking home run, especially the way I've been swinging the bat. Just one of those reactionary things I got ahead in the count and was able to get started earlier [with my swing] and turn on a pitch in."

"A huge spot for it," Johnson said. "At that point, the momentum started to really turn in our favor and we were able to start grinding more at-bats outs."

The significance to this season is Loewen went to spring training battling for a role as a reserve outfielder with the Mets (Mike Baxter got the job). He's just another guy with a bat hoping to break into the big leagues, not some curiosity trying a rarely-made climb.

"I've felt great about it," he said. "This is where I should be right now. I need everyday at-bats to get better and I wouldn't be getting those in the big leagues. This is good for me. We've got a great group of guys and to play with them is a lot of fun.

"I've been so far removed from pitching now that hitting feels natural to me now. I don't even think about my previous career. God wants me here so I just look to the future."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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 Bisons 10    

Pawtucket 9    

(10 innings)    

The Pitch: Bisons' rally from pair of six-run deficits in biggest comeback as Mets affiliate. ... Valdespin RBI single in 10th wins it ... Converted P Loewen homers twice, including a grand slam, and drives in six.    

Fast fact: Harvey allows six runs in fourth, ERA grows to 7.62.    

Next game: Tonight vs. Lehigh Valley, 6 p.m. (Markdown Monday)