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Happy 25th anniversary to the night Bisons nearly won a title by overcoming a 9-0 deficit

It was 25 years ago today that one of the most bizarre games in the history of Buffalo sports was played. In the halcyon days of Buffalo baseball, the fourth year for then-Pilot Field, the Bisons winning their first league championship was going to be big news.

On Sept. 8, 1991 in old Mile High Stadium, the Herd had a 2-1 lead in the American Association finals against the Denver Zephyrs and were looking for the clincher in the best-of-five series.  But all looked lost when Buffalo, then a Pittsburgh affiliate, entered the ninth inning in a 9-0 hole -- and with Denver lefty Greg Mathews working on a no-hitter.

But the Bisons broke up the no-hitter. And the shutout. And guys kept getting on base. And Brian Dorsett belted a three-run homer to suddenly make the score 9-5. And then it was 9-6 after Greg Edge reached on a controversial infield single. And suddenly, future Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Greg Tubbs was at the plate with the bases loaded. Seriously.

Tubbs drilled a ball into the left-field corner and broadcaster Pete Weber immediately screamed, "the tying run will score!" Except it didn't. Left field Mickey Brantley got the ball to shortstop Charlie Montoyo, who fired home to catcher Joe Kmak.

Greg Edge, scooting home all the way from first, was called out by umpire Scott Potter -- who was booed for several years after every time he came to Pilot Field. The tag looked high. Denver catcher Joe Kmak spiked the ball in front of the plate in celebration. Players from both teams poured on to the field, the Zephyrs in relief, the Bisons in rage at the umpires. Even General Manager Mike Billoni got involved and was fined and banned from the field prior to Game Five.

Final score: Zephyrs 9, Bisons 8.

There's not much footage of the game. It wasn't televised in either city. Games Three and Five were on Empire here but Game Four was a Sunday night and the regional sports network was committed to postgame Bills coverage. The only video of the play was a grainy shot by a Denver TV station low on the third-base side, by a cameraman only sent to the stadium at the last minute to record the potential no-hitter.

Here is Bob Dicesare's report from that wild night for The Buffalo News, with plenty of detail about what went on after the controversial final out. Terry Collins, now the longtime manager of the New York Mets, was in the final season of his three-year run in Buffalo. Jeff Banister, suspended for Game Five for running on to the field to confront the umpires, is now the manager of the Texas Rangers.

Tubbs told me in 2014 prior to his hall induction that he has come to grips with the fact he thought Edge was out. Later that week, Montoyo told me "everyone I know tells me he was safe." Montoyo, now a coach with Tampa, spent several years as the manager of the Durham Bulls.

If you want to hear some audio from the fateful inning, click below to hear a National Public Radio episode of "Only A Game" done a few years ago. It includes comments and play-by-play calls from Buffalo baseball Hall of Famer Pete Weber, now the radio voice of the NHL's Nashville Predators

 

What happened next? Denver won Game Five, 12-3, to deny the Bisons their title. The Herd lost in the Association finals again the next year and in 1995. It wasn't until 1997, in the league's final year of existence, that the Bisons finally won the champioship with a sweep of the Iowa Cubs. The Association trophy remains in the Herd's possession to this day in their offices inside Coca-Cola Field.

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