The classic baseball cliché tells us that hitting is contagious. But when clutch hitting becomes contagious, the cliché turns into a nice little winning streak.
The Buffalo Bisons continue to score runs with two outs late in ball games.
Sunday afternoon, it was Darin Mastroianni and Ryan Goins who came up with RBI singles in the eighth inning to give the Herd a 5-3 win over the Charlotte Knights at Coca-Cola Field.
It was the sixth straight win for the Herd, which lost only once on its eight-game home stand.
It was the third straight game in which the Bisons’ offense came around late to produce game-winning runs.
And of the 18 runs scored in their four-game series sweep of the Knights, nine came with two outs.
“We’re obviously on a pretty good roll right now so it is contagious,” manager Gary Allenson said. “When a couple guys do it, everybody wants to do it. … Everybody wants to contribute and it’s not always the same guys. We have different guys in the lineup contributing. The first thing I think about is we’ve already played six extra-inning games. I’m tired of them. Let’s finish it before the 12th or the 13th.”
Allenson might have been chilly this home stand, as temperatures were in the 40s with wind chills that made it more football than baseball weather. But the Bisons’ offense was patient, waiting for its opportunity and looking for ways to manufacture runs instead of scoring only in bunches on big plays.
“We’re just grinders,” Mastroianni said. “From one to nine I think everyone is a grinder. We’re just not going to give away at-bats. No one’s really worried about what happened in the first seven or eight innings. You’re worried about that at-bat and I think you see that the last few nights guys were just trying to keep putting runs across the board. Whatever it takes.”
On Sunday, the Herd took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Kevin Pillar led off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 16 games. Dan Johnson followed with a line drive home run that just cleared the wall in right field.
It was the first homer for the Bisons in 41 innings.
Charlotte regained the lead in the fifth as Kyle Drabek started to struggle. He issued a two-out walk, then gave up a bloop single.
Two more walks pushed a run across the plate and an RBI single from Carlos Sanchez put the Knights up, 3-2.
With reliever John Stilson shutting down the Charlotte offense, the Bisons were able to stay in the game.
In the sixth, three straight singles by Johnson, Matt Tuiasosopo and Jared Goedert tied the game.
Then came the eighth. Brett Carroll singled and Jack Murphy drew a walk. With two outs, Mastroianni singled in Carroll, then Goins drove in Murphy.
It was the fourth straight game with a hit for Goins, who is now batting .350 with three runs batted in since being optioned to the Bisons from the Toronto Blue Jays on April 28.
He started the season with Toronto but struggled at the plate, batting just .150 in 24 games.
“I wasn’t getting hits up there and wasn’t getting it done. So I come down here and have fun and play the game,” Goins said. “You know, it’s not my decision. It’s just, I’ve got to come out here, play and do my best.
“I’m starting to find holes and hitting the ball consistently. That’s all I’m really trying to do and just be the best hitter I can be that day.”
Most often players are judged by their offensive output and while Goins works on his swing, his defense has been simply stellar.
He made a number of highlight-reel catches, two of them in the second inning. He then made a great grab on a sharply hit ball to second and made a perfect throw to first for the final out of the game.
“Offensively it’s a work in progress,” Allenson said, “but defensively, we have a tendency a lot of times to overlook the defense. I’m looking at this guy’s defense, we’re looking at four outs that could have been four hits and it could have been a big difference in the game right there.”