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BRAVES' MARAK MASTERS BISONS, 4-1

With all the dancing that goes on during the course of an average evening at Pilot Field, it's not easy to create a new step. Friday night, Richmond pitcher Paul Marak did just that.

Call it the fridaynightslosh!

With steady rain marring play much of the night, Marak deftly navigated the tricky conditions to toss a complete game as the Braves handcuffed the Herd, 4-1, in the opener of a three-game series.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander scattered eight hits and struck out seven to push his record to 4-2. He is 3-0 with a 1.08 earned-run average since coming from the Richmond bullpen into the starting rotation June 13 and his 1.84 ERA overall now leads the International League.

Not bad for someone often overlooked on the Atlanta organization's totem pole in favor of marquee mound names like Steve Avery, Derek Lilliquist and Kent Mercker.

"I've been looking to get my breaking stuff over and get lots of ground balls," Marak said. "You don't worry about other things like the rain. I kept cleaning my spikes and I never really slipped out there."

Indeed, nothing seemed to bother Marak, who mixed solid fastballs with sharp sliders and sinkers.

He went to a three-ball count on only two hitters all night.

His only real jam came in the third, when he wriggled out of a two-out, bases-loaded situation by getting Moises Alou on a fly ball to center field. Marak would have had a shutout had Bruce Crabbe not booted Tommy Shields' grounder one batter earlier and allowed Armando Moreno to score the Herd's only run.

"During these three starts, I've been going into the game the same way," Marak said. "If I get the ground balls, I'm doing my job. I got two in the third that didn't go my way (an infield hit and Crabbe's error), but you just accept that as the breaks of the game."

"He has a lot of confidence now and you didn't see that when he was in the bullpen," said Richmond manager Jim Beauchamp. "A sinker-slider type pitcher picks up more movement as the game goes on and you saw what happened."

Specifically, the Bisons recorded 13 ground ball outs and put two hits together only in the third inning.

While Marak flourished, Buffalo starter Hugh Kemp never found his comfort zone on the hill during the rainy early innings. Kemp (5-5) struggled with his location -- and the slick mound -- for much of his 2 2/3 -inning stint.

"The real problem," said Buffalo pitching coach Jackie Brown, "was that he would make two good pitches and one bad one. He needs to slow himself down because when he tries to do something he's not capable of, he gets the ball up. That's when he gets hurt."

Kemp, who has now won just two of his last 11 starts since April 23, got into trouble from which he never escaped during the Braves' three-run third.

Already holding a 1-0 lead, Marak started the frame with a single and eventually scored on Geronimo Berroa's single to right-center. Andy Tomberlin followed with a sacrifice fly and Drew Denson cracked a 1-2 pitch to right for an RBI single that finished Kemp.

The Bisons announced 17,230 tickets were sold for the game, raising the season total to 500,004, the third-highest in franchise history. The persistent rain and ominous clouds kept the actual crowd to about 10,000.
Bells Markets is offering two-for-one bleacher tickets to Monday night's National Old Timers Baseball Classic at Pilot Field, the Bisons announced.

Bells purchased the 3,000 seats and will offer them at $12.50 per pair at six area locations. Approximately 4,000 reserved seats are also available at $12.50 each through the Bisons' normal ticket outlets.

The two-for-one bleacher seats are available at these Bells locations: 1234 Abbott Rd., Lackawanna; 250 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; Sheridan at Delaware, Tonawanda; 5999 South Park, Hamburg; Main and Union, Williamsville; 500 Dick Road, Depew.

The contest begins at 8:10. An on-field photo session is scheduled for 4:30, batting practice begins at 6:00 and introductions start at 7:30.

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