Buffalo Bisons pitcher Mike York prepares for a day's work by reading from "The Mental Game of Baseball" and listening to mellow music. The Bisons chide York about his new ritual, but he can take the ribbing. It's easy to laugh when you're the hottest starter on the staff.
And make no mistake about it, York's hotter than Dick Tracy. He has won three straight starts, each more impressively than the previous.
The crescendo came Sunday afternoon when York blanked the Richmond Braves, 3-0, at Pilot Field to give the Bisons a split of a Triple A Alliance double-header. The Braves won the opener, 2-1, in nine innings with the help of a season-high six Buffalo errors. There were 16,039 tickets sold for the twin bill.
York's four-hit, nine-strikeout performance was a double delight. It proved that his previous outing, a 3-2 complete-game victory over Nashville, was not fool's gold. And it came with the Bisons on a three-game losing streak, their longest in three weeks.
"You can say individually it was important for Mike, but it was real important for the ballclub," said catcher Dann Bilardello. "We need to start getting on another roll."
Indeed, the Bisons were a downcast club heading into the nightcap. Richmond's victory in the opener had snapped Buffalo's streak of five straight series victories. And the Nashville Sounds, 3 1/2 games behind the Herd on Tuesday, suddenly were back within 2 1/2 .
Furthermore, Richmond did not win the opener so much as the Bisons lost it. Buffalo's six errors, five by the infield, led to both Braves runs. The winner scored on shortstop Tommy Shields' second throwing error of the game.
But the Bisons went back to the drawing board in the finale. Jeff Richardson replaced Shields at short, figured in two double plays and dived to spear a Kelly Mann liner for the game's final out.
The double plays came in the first two innings, giving the Herd a much-needed boost of confidence. After all, the game isn't played between the lines, it's played between the ears.
"Confidence is the biggest thing in this game," Bilardello said. "I don't care if you have limited ability if you have confidence in yourself."
And right now York (5-3) is the Herd's guru of positive thought.
"I'm not doing anything differently," York said. "What has helped me a lot is my preparation. It keeps me in focus."
Thus far, York's season has paralleled his 1989 effort. And if the parallel continues, the Bisons can count on a string of quality starts.
York started 0-4 at Harrisburg last season and people were wondering if his aptitude was right for the job. Then he threw 23 scoreless innings in early June, won 11 of his next 12 decisions and was promoted to Buffalo in late July.
Could another role be in the offing?
"It was a big game for him," said manager Terry Collins. "That's two good ones back to back. I know what he did the second half (of the season) at Harrisburg last year."
With the Bisons' offense struggling for hits, let alone runs, tossing a shutout seemed the only way York could assure himself of victory. The Bisons managed only four hits off starter Dale Polley (1-2) and reliever Ed Olwine, but got three runs with the help of Richmond miscues.
Orlando Merced scored from first in the fourth when right fielder Andy Tomberlin was fooled on Steve Kiefer's wind-blown fly ball. Buffalo scored twice more in the fifth. Wes Chamberlain scored from first when center fielder Dennis Hood bobbled Bilardello's double to right-center. Bilardello advanced to third on the play and scored on York's sacrifice fly.
In the opener, it was the Braves who advanced around the bases compliments of the opposition.
Herd second baseman Armando Moreno botched Rico Rossy's game-opening grounder. Rossy stole second, took third on a passed ball and came home on Bruce Crabbe's sacrifice fly.
Mark Ryal's RBI single evened the score in the bottom of the inning, and that's how it remained until the ninth.
John Mizerock reached on a one-out error by first baseman Merced. Ken Dowell's two-out single off reliever Mike Roesler (0-1) pushed Mizerock to second. Derek Lilliquist, a starting pitcher and accomplished hitter, came on to bat for reliever Kent Mercker (5-4). Lilliquist grounded a base hit to the hole at short, with Mizerock scoring on Shields' errant attempt for a force at second.
But York's performance in the nightcap enabled the Herd to cleanse its memory of the opening-game debacle.