The Buffalo Bisons returned to Coca-Cola Field for the start of a historic homestand Tuesday still a bit road weary.
The Herd fell, 6-1, to the Gwinnett Braves to start a 17-day, 16-game homestand, the longest ever in the team's modern era. Buffalo wrapped up a 10-game road trip, its longest of the season, late Monday against Charlotte before flying home Tuesday morning.
"We made a couple base-running mistakes early that hurt us, before the game got out of hand," Bisons manager Wally Backman said. "[It was] a tough day all around. I gave the guys a little bit of a break [Tuesday]. We didn't get out of the clubhouse [Monday] night until after midnight, and had a 3:45 wake-up call, so just a tough day all around."
Gwinnett opened the scoring in the first inning when Stefan Gartrell hit a two-out, two-run home run just over the left-field wall. It was Gartrell's third home run against the Bisons in five games this season.
"We're trying to pitch him a certain way and we're missing with a couple of pitches. That's exactly what happened on that," Backman said. "We're trying to keep the ball away from him and the ball came back across the plate, so that really kind of set the tone."
Gartrell's homer was preceded by an excellent at-bat by Drew Sutton. He singled to left on the 10th pitch he saw to keep the inning alive.
"Five days ago when I faced Sutton I knew how to get him out. I kept throwing that pitch and he kept fouling it off because he knew what I was trying to do," Bisons starter Jeremy Hefner said. "I didn't want to walk him to put him on in front of Gartrell. He found the hole and the cutter [to Gartrell] just didn't cut, it stayed straight."
Hefner fell to 3-2 on the season. He saw his earned-run average rise almost a full run, from 1.77 to 2.72, after he worked 5 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and six runs.
The Bisons weren't without their chances. They had one hit in each of the first six innings, but made a few key base-running errors. Valentino Pascucci was thrown out by Gartrell in left trying to stretch a double into a triple leading off the fourth, and Omar Quintanilla was picked off after singling with one out in the fifth.
"You've got to get your hits when it counts, and we hit into some double plays that really hurt us," Backman said, including in the sixth, when Pascucci ground into an inning-ending double play with runners on first and second.
Gwinnett starter Todd Redman (3-3) struck out four in six innings, scattering seven hits and allowing no runs.
The Braves opened things up in the sixth inning when four of the first five batters reached base. Drew Sutton, who went 3 for 4 with two runs scored, laced an RBI double to make it 3-0, and that was followed by RBI hits from Christian Marrero and Josh Wilson and a sacrifice fly by Joey Terdoslavich.
Buffalo's lone run came in the ninth inning, which Fred Lewis started with a triple. He came home on an RBI groundout by Vinny Rottino.
Earlier, Rottino extended his hitting streak to 18 games with a single to right field in the first inning. Rottino's streak is just the 12th to stretch at least 18 games in the team's modern era, and comes sandwiched around an eight-game call-up to New York.
The Herd's roster has been a revolving door -- particularly in the infield -- because of injuries, call-ups and roster defections.
The latest change came Monday, when third baseman Zach Lutz was placed on the disabled list because of a broken hamate bone in his left wrist. Lutz will travel to New York to be evaluated.
The Herd also lost their leading hitter over the weekend when second baseman Bobby Scales was placed on the inactive list after he left the team to sign with a Japanese club.
The Bisons plan to use recent call-up Oswaldo Navarro and Brad Emaus at second in place of Scales.
Buffalo's homestand continues tonight when Garrett Olson (0-3, 3.35) searches for his first win (7:05 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) against Gwinnett's Jair Jurrjens.