For a few innings, he looked to be the hero of the game for the Buffalo Bisons.
In the final tally, Junior Lake still had the best performance for the team – a three-run homer and an RBI single.
It was a breakout offensive performance for the 26-year-old outfielder who single-handedly got the Herd back into the ball game.
His four RBIs helped the Herd rebound from a 4-0 deficit to take a 5-4 lead in the sixth. That was before the bullpen imploded and Syracuse scored seven runs in the eighth to blow the game open in a 14-6 win at Coca-Cola Field on Thursday night.
Lake said his three-hit night at the plate came from “my timing and being prepared. Just see the ball and hit it. I have to prepare, have a plan and see the ball and hit it.”
Preparation started in the afternoon when manager Gary Allenson said Lake took early batting practice with Bisons’ hitting coach Richie Hebner.
“He took early batting practice today and worked on a couple things and obviously it paid off,” Allenson said. “He’s been swinging a little bit too big and I’m not saying that didn’t happen tonight a couple of times but his swing has been a little bit too big, the head’s been flying out there and he did a couple drills today where he’s staying in the center of the field and trying to keep his head still and it worked. We’re going to need production from him.”
The production started loudly – a towering three-run home run in the second that carried out of the park to center field, just to the right of the 404 sign.
“I know I hit it pretty well, hit it right to the barrel and I could feel it was going,” Lake said. “I know the wind helped me a little bit, too.”
Lake and Andy Burns are the only two on the Bisons roster to play in all 27 games for the club this season.
While most of the Herd have struggled offensively, the last few games have been better at the plate for Lake, who is now on a four-game hitting streak.
Meanwhile, his play in the outfield has been steady and his time in centerfield has been key with Dalton Pompey missing his eighth straight game with a heel injury on Thursday. Lake has made several diving plays to save runs even as the Herd has struggled to find wins, going 1-3 on their current homestand.
“You know I can play and help the team, help the pitcher, too,” Lake said. “If they don’t pitch well if I can catch with a slide, I do it.
“I feel good. We’ve got 100 games coming. We’ve got to play together and something will change. If you play together and play hard, things will change.”
It will be a tough test for the Herd the rest of the homestand against a Syracuse club with some of the top prospects in the Washington Nationals’ organization. The Chiefs are now 16-10 with the second-best record in the International League.
The Herd looked as if they could squeak out a win, taking a 5-4 lead in the sixth. But Syracuse tied the game in the seventh then exploded for a seven-run eighth inning.
“I can’t remember the last time we scored six runs in a game because we haven’t been clicking with the bats so it was a little disappointing to finally put six up and have a 5-4 lead … and we couldn’t hold on,” Allenson said.
For the record, the six runs mark the most runs for the Herd in a game since an 8-7 loss to Rochester on April 26.