MOOSIC, Pa. — Welcome back, offense.
If ever the Buffalo Bisons needed their offense to hit high gear again, this was it. And thanks to Kevin Pillar, it did.
Thrust in a tight playoff race, the Herd rode Pillar’s bat to an 8-5 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at PNC Park Sunday afternoon.
The Bisons, winners in five of their last six games, pulled percentage points ahead of Norfolk in the International League Wild Card race and stayed 2½ games behind Rochester in the IL North Division race. The Red Wings beat Norfolk, 5-0, on Sunday evening.
To earn the weekend sweep over the RailRiders, the Herd put up 14 runs, and Pillar drove in six of those.
Pillar drove in four runs Sunday with all his hits for extra bases — two doubles and a triple.
Going back through his last seven at-bats, Pillar has five hits and six RBIs after a disappointing 3-for-30 stretch.
Pillar’s two-out triple in the third gave the Bisons an early 2-0 lead. The Herd added four more in the fourth.
The offensive burst started with back-to-back singles from Andy LaRoche and Jim Negrych. Sean Ochinko walked to load the bases and a Ryan Goins single drove in LaRoche.
Up came Pillar, who drilled a double to left to drive home two more, giving the Herd a comfortable 6-0 lead.
The offense gave starter Chien-Ming Wang a cushion as the righty pitched six shutout innings for his fifth quality start. He struck out five and walked three while giving up five hits.
But things got interesting when reliever John Stilson entered the game. Stilson gave up a three-run home run to Melky Mesa in the seventh, cutting the Herd’s lead in half.
The Bisons’ offense responded with runs in the eighth and ninth.
Ochinko’s double to center allowed Negrych, who had walked, to score in the eighth inning. Pillar knocked his second double of the game in the ninth and scored on a sacrifice fly from Moises Sierra.
Scranton rallied with two runs in the ninth off Scott Gracey, who was making his first appearance with the Herd since being called up from Double-A New Hampshire. He settled in with a pair of strikeouts and forced a ground ball out to end the game.
Wang (7-7) picked up his third win with the Herd in seven starts. He threw 96 pitches, 61 for strikes.
The win gives the Herd a season series split with Scranton (8-8). It is only the third split in the last eight years between the teams. The Herd have not won the season series with Scranton since 2005.
The Herd begin a crucial homestand today, playing six games in five days. It starts tonight with a doubleheader against Syracuse (TWCS, Radio 1520 AM). Ricky Romero (3-5, 6.18 ERA) takes the mound for the 5:30 first pitch at Coca-Cola Field while Todd Redmond (3-1, 5.06) is scheduled to start Game Two.
Thad Weber (6-4, 2.63) is next in the rotation for the third game of the series Tuesday’.
Syracuse, which plays three games in two days in Buffalo, has not announced its rotation.
The Chiefs (56-65) are in last place in the IL North, giving the Herd ample opportunity to pick up wins to help in their playoff push. The Bisons are 8-3 against Syracuse this season but only 2-3 at home.
Then comes the golden opportunity — three home games against Rochester beginning Wednesday as they battle head to head in the IL North Division race.
The teams square off seven times in the last three weeks of the season. The Herd hold a 5-4 advantage in the series this season and are 2-1 at home.