Jake Elmore took one cro-hop and fired home, hitting catcher Raffy Lopez in the chest on one bounce. Darnell Sweeney didn't stand a chance at scoring and Elmore's gun-down prevented Louisville from creeping back in a game that ended up never in doubt.
Three innings earlier on Sunday, in the top of the second, Elmore faced a similar scenario from his spot in left field. With runners on first and second with one out, Zach Vincej singled to left. Alex Blandino rounded third and Elmore heaved home, but luckily for the Bisons Blandino held at third. Elmore's throw sailed well right of the plate, forcing Lopez to slide almost 30 feet to his left and drop to his knees to prevent the ball from skidding to the backstop and allowing a run to score.
Elmore knew if another single dropped in front of him with a runner on second, he wasn't stopping at third.
"A couple innings before, I had thrown one and it was way off line ... (Sweeney) is like, 'This guy can't throw,'" Elmore said. "It felt good, came out and I was glad (third baseman Jason Leblebijian) let it go."
Arguably the game's highlight play put a spotlight on a player who is finally figuring it out, both in the field and at the plate. Elmore's struggles have coincided with the Bisons', and the veteran left fielder came into July with a microscopic .208 average. Since then, with time off due to injury that allowed him to see that game from a distance for two weeks, Elmore's average has risen 15 points. In the last 10 games, the right-hander is hitting .353, and Sunday's 7-2 win over the Bats showcased Elmore in both facets, a microcosm for the all-around improvements he's made in the month of July.
“Getting a look at what’s going on, I think it might’ve helped him a little bit," Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said. "It let him look back instead of being in the middle of it, think about what he needs to do when he gets back out there and we’ve seen great results since then, in the field and at the plate, so it’s great to see.”
As Buffalo experienced a historically bad month of June, Elmore's averaged dropped from .224 to .211. In one three-game stretch against Rochester in late June, Elmore let go of his bat at the plate three times as it went flying to his left. Not only did he struggle to get hits, Elmore struggled to keep hold of the thing he needed to actually make contact.
After starting July with hits in two of his first three games, Elmore was sidelined from July 7-22. In eight games since returning, he's 10-for-27, including a 7-for-13 stretch in the last three games with three RBIs capped off by a two-hit, two-RBI showing Sunday. Elmore insists nothing has changed mechanically in his swing, just that he's finally making contact and finding holes like he's struggled to do for quite some time.
"Every season you go through times where you’re like, ‘Man, anybody can get me out’ or ‘No one can get me out, it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound," Elmore said. "I felt last couple games I’ve had confidence every at bat like, ‘I’m getting a hit.’"
As July turns to August, Buffalo has an off day Monday before facing first-place Scranton at the RailRiders' home field. Elmore's first test in the new month will be Chance Adams, the righty hurler who's one of the Yankees best minor leaguers. The last two months have been polar opposites for Elmore, who hopes his recent string of success carries over as a new month begins.
"It just sometimes snowballs," Elmore said, "so hopefully keep it rolling after this off day."