As we head into what should be a memorable playoff race in the International League, the Buffalo Bisons were painfully reminded of the delicate balance between winning and losing.
A two-run homer by Pawtucket’s Dan Butler off reliever John Stilson turned a one-run Bisons’ lead into a 5-4 loss on Monday in front of 6,590 at Coca-Cola Field.
Hours after the team placed hard-hitting All-Star Mauro Gomez on the disabled list, the Bisons still managed to crank out 11 hits which included a solo shot to right in the seventh by Mike McCoy that gave the Bisons a 4-3 lead. But it was Butler (2 for 3) who helped settle matters in the eighth with a two-run blast to left.
“It felt good for a little bit but they came back and put two up the next inning,” McCoy said. “It’s a tough loss.”
With 29 games remaining, the Bisons are in the thick of a heated playoff chase with six other teams but Monday’s loss certainly didn’t help. Buffalo is now 2½ games behind Pawtucket (61-55) in the wild-card race at 58-57. Norfolk (61-56) swept a doubleheader against Gwinnett on Monday to pull within a half game of the Sox, and Rochester, who held a two-game lead in the International League North Division coming into Monday (64-54), began a four-game series at Durham with a win. The Bulls (73-44) control the IL South with a double-digit lead.
“Every game is important and these guys are just in front of us,” McCoy said. “Head-to-head matchups are even more important.”
The Bisons have 12 games remaining against Rochester and Pawtucket including tonight’s 7:05 game against the Red Sox (Radio 1520 AM).
“It is frustrating but that’s how the game goes,” said Bisons first baseman Clint Robinson, who went 3 for 4 with an RBI on Monday. “Pawtucket’s got a good team, they’re going to battle, we’re in a division race and all that but the game is fickle and sometimes it doesn’t bounce your way.”
The Bisons led, 4-3, with one on and two outs in the eighth when Bisons manager Marty Brown went to Stilson. Butler blasted his first offering over the left-field fence. It was surprising considering Stilson was in a good rhythm of late, having held opponents scoreless in 17 of 22 outings.
“One pitch and it’s unfortunate,” Brown said. “Stilly’s got good stuff. He made a bad pitch and lost his focus on the first pitch. Butler’s a good hitter and he’s done a good job for them this year, especially behind the plate but he has the ability to pull for a home run.”
McCoy turned on a fastball in the seventh and parked it just inside the foul pole in left that gave the Herd their first lead of the game at 4-3. There was potential for more when the Bisons loaded the bases with two down but the threat dissolved when Ryan Goins grounded to second.
The Bisons were 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left 10 stranded.
“We get guys on we’ve got to get those guys in because these teams are going to score and those runs are really important,” Robinson said.
The Bisons on Monday placed Gomez on the disabled list, retroactive to Sunday. The All-Star infielder left the Bisons’ win over Pawtucket on Saturday with a strained left oblique. Gomez said he expects to be out of the lineup for two weeks.
Gomez leads the International League with 28 home runs. He also leads the Herd with 67 RBIs – which ranks fifth in the IL – and 46 extra-base hits which is fourth best in the league.
In a team-high 97 games, Gomez has averaged .243 with 17 doubles, a triple and 55 runs scored.
To replace Gomez, the Bisons activated pitcher Todd Redmond, who was optioned from the parent Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
Redmond has pitched in six games for the Bisons this season. The veteran is 3-1 with a 5.06 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 26∏ innings this season.