Twice when the Buffalo Bisons offense was slumping, Mike York pitched stellar games to snatch the Herd from defeat.
So Friday night it was only appropriate that the Bisons hauled out the heavy lumber to back one of York's less impressive performances.
Dann Bilardello, York's designated catcher of late, charged the battery by lining two homers and driving in five runs. Steve Kiefer added a three-run homer and Wes Chamberlain stroked a pair of doubles, one good for an RBI.
Excessive? Hardly. The Herd required all the offense it could muster to hold off the Rochester Red Wings, 11-7, before a standing-room-only crowd of 20,921 at Pilot Field.
The Bisons needed this victory badly. Team continuity had dissolved in the wake of recent roster moves made by the parent Pittsburgh Pirates. And a three-game losing streak had whittled Buffalo's lead in the American Association East to one-half game.
But just when the adversity hits its peak, the Bisons always manage to club it down a notch. This was the 14th time since April 21 that the Herd has persevered with its divisional lead in immediate jeopardy.
"We've got a good club, there's no doubt about that," Bilardello said. "But it's really kind of amazing with all the changes we've made that we've stuck together. Hopefully they'll get things settled in Pittsburgh and we'll get things settled here and start to win some ballgames."
While the Pirates moves haven't helped the Bisons lately, a New York Mets bat certainly has. Bilardello requested and received a piece of lumber from Mets third baseman Howard Johnson during his last stint with Pittsburgh.
With Friday's 3-for-4 effort, Bilardello has gone 14 for 37 with HoJo's stick. Four of those hits are home runs.
"I was scared to use it at first because it's a bigger bat then I've used before," Bilardello said. "I'll have to call him and see if I can get another."
Bilardello hit a solo shot off starter Eric Bell (7-5) in the second and victimized reliever Jay Aldrich for a three-run shot in the fifth. The latter homer, Bilardello's fifth, gave York a 9-2 cushion that was soon to deflate.
A three-run homer by former Pirates farmhand Tony Chance capped a four-run sixth that carved Rochester's deficit to 9-6 and banished York.
"I had the ball up all night and I got behind too many hitters and I got hurt," York said. "It was bound to happen. I wasn't looking for it to happen, but what are you going to do?"
Buffalo provided York (6-3) with room for error right from the start. The Herd rebounded from a Rochester run to score three in the first on Kiefer's eighth homer. At least the Bisons wouldn't have to chase the torrid-hitting Red Wings from behind for the second time in as many nights.
"When they scored that run we could have gotten down," Kiefer said. "But we showed we weren't going to die. We can hit home runs, too."
Bilardello's hitting aside, perhaps the most significant performance of this game belonged to John Cangelosi. Cangelosi reported to the Bisons from Pittsburgh Friday and promptly was inserted into the leadoff role.
He made his presence felt by reaching base five times, stealing two bases, inducing two balks, drawing an errant pickoff throw and, also while on base, a wild pitch. It appears the Bisons finally have the speedy No. 1 hitter they've lacked all season.
"I know Cangy's not happy to be here, but I'm happy he's here," Bilardello said. "No knock on our outfielders, but he's going to help our young players by taking command out there. And he's going to drive the other team crazy no matter how long we have him."
Hopefully, the Bisons will have him today. Cangelosi was struck on the right elbow by a eighth-inning pitch and was scheduled for X-rays.