By Owen O'Brien
The third inning was a nightmare for Buffalo Bisons fans and scorekeepers alike.
The three-run third inning fueled a 6-2 victory for the Gwinnett Braves on Wednesday night at Coca-Cola Field. It began with a Daniel Castro walk and a Mycal Jones bunt single on which Buffalo starter Daniel Norris slipped on the wet grass trying to make the throw to first.
“That one inning was tough, they were putting a lot of pressure on us, stealing some bases, some bunts,” said catcher Sean Ochinko, whose two-run home run in the fifth inning provided the Bisons’ only runs. “The field was a little wet and on the bunt, Norris fell down and whatnot, but those things happen in baseball.”
The bunt again proved to be a dangerous weapon when Ochinko fielded a Mallex Smith bunt and threw to third but was too late and the bases were loaded.
Following so far? Now it really gets interesting.
Jose Peraza followed with a fly to Caleb Gindl in right field. Gindl fired a throw to the plate but Ochinko was unable to reel it in and apply the tag on Castro. As the ball rolled away, Norris fielded it, threw to second and Jones broke for home to score the second run of the inning.
The chaotic inning was nowhere near over. Eric Young Jr. reached base on a third-strike wild pitch with one out to put runners on first and third. Adonis Garcia followed with a fly ball to center fielder Melky Mesa. Young clearly forgot there was only one out, as he rounded second base before the catch was made. Mesa, unaware of Young’s baserunning blunder, threw home. Smith was safe at the plate as the speedy Young returned safely to first.
The Braves were also 3 for 3 on stolen base attempts, including two by Young. The Bisons were unable to find answers for the small ball approach of a National League affiliate team.
“That’s a team that plays that way, a National League team,” Ochinko said. “They bunt, they hit and run, they steal. They don’t have a ton of home run threats so that’s the way they win games, so you have to make sure you do the little things. Make the good throws on the bunts, myself included.”
Norris left the third inning trailing 3-0 after facing seven Braves, despite allowing just one bunt hit that traveled about 20 feet, no walks and one earned run.
The less than ideal field conditions showed again in the fourth inning as left fielder Alex Hassan slipped on a Sean Kazmar hit that turned a would-be single into a triple. Kazmar scored on Castro’s single. But Ochinko wasn’t quite ready to blame the game on the field conditions.
“I think it played a little bit but it’s the same for both teams,” Ochinko said. “They have to play on it as well.”
The Bisons weren’t able to recover from the inning. Aside from Ochinko’s blast, Buffalo failed to do much offensively in the series. The Herd scored just four runs in losing all three games against the Braves.
Despite entering the game with the second lowest ERA in the International League (2.93), the Bisons fell to 37-42, largely due to the team’s offensive woes.
Small ball prevailed Wednesday, leading to sloppy play on the field and in the scorebook.