Inconsistency. It's the buzzword for the Buffalo Bisons, who closed out their season-opening homestand Thursday with an 8-4 loss to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The Herd went 4-5 in their first games at Coca-Cola Field on a roller coaster of ups and downs. Some games featured home runs. Others good pitching. Then there were bouts of questionable defense and a lull in the starting rotation that couldn't seem to find the strike zone.
Capping it all off has been the problem of timely hitting. While the Herd came up with big hits in some spots, for the most part they've failed to bring runners home.
In Thursday's loss, they went just 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position. For the season, that puts the Herd batting just .183 with runners in scoring position.
For a microcosm of the problem, take the sixth inning.
Trailing, 2-0, Valentino Pascucci led off with a solo homer. Adam Loewen drew a walk and Vinny Rottino, in to pinch hit, doubled, putting runners on second and third with no outs.
But alas, the Herd could not score. Rob Johnson popped up to first base. Omar Quintanilla grounded to third. He reached on a fielder's choice but Loewen was caught running on contact and was tagged out trying to reach home. With runners on the corners, Zach Lutz flied out to left to end the inning.
"The 1 for 13 with guys in scoring position has been our downfall all year long," Bisons manager Wally Backman said. "We're going to hit and we're going to score runs but that's one of the phases of the game offensively that we really need to work on."
Still, Buffalo battled back to tie the game, 2-2, when Jordany Valdespin led off the bottom of the seventh with a solo homer.
"I don't think about homer. I think about hitting the ball really good and helping my team," said Valdespin, who went 3 for 4 with a walk in the leadoff spot. "I knew I hit it with [good] contact but I run hard. If the ball is in the gap I could hit a triple. I just think to hit the ball hard, run hard, hustle."
The wheels, however, came off in the eighth for the Herd. The inning started with an error by Pascucci at first. The next batter, Cody Overbeck, bunted to third, but a mental error by second baseman Bobby Scales left no one covering first base. Runners were safe with no outs.
After a sacrifice to move the runners and an intentional walk, Erik Kratz singled to short right field. While replays showed the throw to the plate was in time and accurate for the force out, home plate umpire A.J. Johnson called the runner safe.
That gave Lehigh Valley a 3-2 lead. They would finish the inning with four more runs to take a commanding 7-2 lead.
"We had every opportunity to win that game," Backman said. "There were a couple of mistakes we made. A questionable call at the plate. But we got ourselves in trouble with one error and a mental mistake as well.
"[The call at the plate] was questionable. I thought we still could have gotten out of it. . It's an unfortunate situation and a tough way to lose."
Scales reached base twice again with a pair of singles. He has now reached base at least twice in all 12 games he has played for Buffalo. The hit by Rottino was the first by a pinch hitter for Buffalo this season. Herd pinch hitters had gone 0 for 7 until Rottino's double in the sixth. The announced paid attendance was 4,550. The Bisons begin a six-game road trip with three games in Syracuse before heading for three at Lehigh Valley. Buffalo's Matt Harvey (0-1, 7.62 ERA) starts against Syracuse's Mitch Atkins (1-1, 0.75 ERA) tonight in Syracuse (7 p.m., 1520 AM).