It's hard to catch them if you can't beat them. In fact, their inability to defeat the Buffalo Bisons is why the Nashville Sounds reside in second place in the American Association East.
Buffalo's 4-0 victory over Nashville Tuesday night at Pilot Field was the Herd's seventh win of the eight-game-old season series.
The Sounds have played the remainder of the Triple A Alliance more successfully than the Bisons have. Nashville is 37-24 in games not involving Buffalo; Buffalo 35-27 in games not involving Nashville. But when everything's combined the Herd leads the East by 3 1/2 games.
"Every year you go through that," said Sounds outfielder Skeeter Barnes. "There's always one team you can't seem to beat."
It stands to reason the Sounds better solve the jinx if they plan to stage a comeback.
"That's not always true," Barnes said. "Evidently they're not beating somebody else for us to be that close."
Added Sounds manager Pete Mackanin, "We have to find somebody we can beat up on."
The Bisons have been beating up on everyone lately, having won their last five series regardless of the outcome of this afternoon's finale (2:05 p.m., WGR). And they have won those series despite a rash of injuries.
Second baseman Armando Moreno and shortstop Tommy Shields have played often and well while Kevin Burdick and Jeff Richardson recuperate. Shields drove in the first run Tuesday with a double in the fourth. Mark Ryal has supplanted prospect Wes Chamberlain in the outfield and is ripping pitches at a .360 clip.
And now Steve Kiefer and Tom Prince are swinging productive bats. Kiefer went 3 for 3 Tuesday while collecting his sixth homer in the fifth. He drove in his 26th run in the two-run sixth, singling home Ed Yacopino, who had driven home Ryal with a single.
On the defensive side, Moises Alou and Yacopino have come up from Harrisburg and steadied the Herd's shaky outfield play.
Suddenly, all the Bisons seemed to lack were consistent performances from starters Mike York and Vicente Palacios. But York threw a complete-game five-hitter Monday, striking out 12. And on Tuesday, Palacios (4-5) worked seven scoreless innings for his fourth win in his last five decisions.
"It seems like everything's clicking," Kiefer said. "The pitching has been good, the defense is coming around and the hitting is getting there."
Indeed, manager Terry Collins likes what he sees. Not enough to promise a divisional title, but enough to like his chances.
"I think our pitching is excellent," Collins said. "In the beginning of the year Palacios threw a number of good games but either lost or got a no decision. Then for three or four games he tried to be too fine. Then he had a couple mediocre outings where he won and seemed to get some confidence. And now he's back on track."
So if Palacios and York maintain an acceptable degree of consistency? "Yeah," admitted Collins, "we'll be tough to beat."
Despite what the four-run margin indicates, the Sounds weren't outclassed Tuesday. It's just that eight of their nine hits off Palacios came with two out. That's a tough way to make a living, but Nashville nearly cashed in.
Moreno ranged right in the third to snare a hot Billy Bates grounder and strand runners on first and third. Sounds were left on the corners again in the seventh when Moreno recovered a liner off Palacios' glove. And in the fourth the Sounds batted starter Rob Lopez (5-6) with two out and the bases loaded.
"We just haven't scored any runs the last couple of days," Barnes said. "I don't think they're all that much better than we are. I'd be worried if they had a seven- or eight-game lead. But there's nothing to be worried about. A lot can still happen."
Enter Buffalo's Palacios and Mike Roesler, and Nashville's Lopez, Milton Hill and Joe Lazor in the Triple A trivia book. Those five handled the pitching Tuesday, and none issued a walk. . . . Tuesday's paid attendance of 15,610 increased Buffalo's season total to 470,023. Weather permitting, the Bisons will top 500,000 during this weekend's series against Richmond.
Issuing a challenge to the Western New York business community, the Manufacturers & Traders Trust Co. bank presented a check to Buffalo Bisons president Robert E. Rich Jr. for a commitment on the purchase 125 major-league season tickets when Buffalo is granted a major-league baseball franchise.
Robert G. Wilmers, M&T's president and chief executive officer, made the check presentation to Rich at the bank's stage at One M&T Plaza. The bank's 66 branch offices in Buffalo and Rochester will have ticket reservation forms.