Over the last two weeks, it has seemed that injury, lack of offense or bad timing, or a combination of the three, had been working against the Buffalo Bisons.
Wednesday at Pilot Field, one got the feeling the Bisons have put those circumstances behind them.
Offensive power was in abundance in the first game of the double-header against the Rochester Red Wings, as the Bisons hit three home runs in a 4-1 win. And after Jay Bell came through with a home run with two out in the seventh to win the nightcap, 1-0, the Bisons took it as a sign things are starting to go their way.
By sweeping the three-game series with Rochester, the Bisons finished 6-4 on their homestand, moved above .500 (23-22) and received a collective boost in confidence.
"This is very important," said Herd manager Terry Collins. "We came home from the last road trip knowing we had to have a good homestand. We started out good, but just had a horrendous weekend that hurt us. Now to get back above .500 is a big plus."
"I can see the atmosphere is more positive," said catcher Dann Bilardello. "I'm not saying everything's going to be great from now on, but it's a positive step that we needed at this time. If the last few days are any indication, our hitting might start to come around."
If Bell's performance Wednesday is any indication, he will be the 20-homer man the team needs in its speed-oriented lineup.
The 23-year-old third baseman crushed a home run 50 feet up the 60-foot left field screen in the first game and ended the nightcap by homering over the 384-foot mark in left-center.
"Sooner or later, all good teams are going to come out of it," Bell said. "We have a good team, and most of us were struggling at the plate. But we're starting to get better production."
Bell's second homer of the day and fifth of the season spoiled a brilliant outing by Rochester right-hander Pete Harnisch, the top prospect in the Baltimore Orioles' organization.
The hard-throwing Harnisch, who started the year in Baltimore and may be back up before long, yielded four hits, struck out seven and walked two.
Bell had struck out the first two at-bats against Harnisch.
"He was throwing a lot of fastballs all day and getting me out," said Bell, who hit a 1-2 pitch out of the park. "I figured he was going to keep throwing them. Fortunately, he left one out over the plate."
Tom Romano and Bilardello hit the other first-game homers for the Bisons, who had homered only five times in the previous 14 games.
While the home run was a welcome addition to the Herd attack, the team's superb starting pitching continued.
Left-hander Morris Madden pitched a one-hitter to win the nightcap, and right-hander Dorn Taylor scattered six hits to win the opener. Madden's ERA dropped to 1.26, Taylor's to 2.34.
"Every last one of our starters has been outstanding," Collins said. "It's a joy watching all five starters go out there every game. With our pitching staff, if we can score some runs, were going to win ballgames."
The 30-year-old Taylor used superb control to handcuff Rochester. He walked two, fell behind 2-0 on the count only once and threw his first pitch for strikes to 18 of the 26 batters he faced.
"The thing is, my last few games I'm only going with two pitches, the fastball and the change-up," said Taylor. "I'm having such success with it, I'm thinking about dumping my other two pitches. . . . When you only
have two pitches going, and both of them coming off the same motion, you have to try to hit the corners. I'm not an overpowering pitcher."
The 28-year-old Madden walked five, but overpowered batters.
"They're two different kind of pitchers," pitching coach Jackie Brown said. "Dorn is a control pitcher; he throws strikes. Madden's thing is his stuff. He has a lot better fastball and he has a better curveball. He goes out there and he throws four pitches at you, and a lot of 'em are out of the strike zone, but you have to swing at them because they move that much."
The only hit Madden allowed was an infield single to Harold Perkins in the third.
Rochester (23-22) came into the games batting only .228 as a team.
The Bisons start a six-game road trip at 7:30 tonight at Syracuse. After three games with the Chiefs, the Herd plays three games at Rochester. Buffalo's Rick Reed is scheduled to face Todd Stottlemyre tonight.
There were 13,227 tickets sold for the double-header and about 8,000 in attendance. . . . Outfielder Steve Carter returned to the lineup in the nightcap after missing eight games with an injured thumb. . . . Infielder Bobby Meacham extended his hitting streak to seven games. . . . Bucky Dent of the Columbus Clippers and Pete Mackanin of the Iowa Cubs have been selected to manage the second Triple-A All-Star Game, to be played July 12 at Columbus.