Oscar Henriquez of New Orleans is as menacing in appearance as any relief pitcher in the minors. He stands 6-foot-6. He weighs 225 pounds. He sends his fastball hurtling toward the plate between 93 and 97 mph. And he doesn't necessarily have the best control.
But what's that they say? Oh, yes. The harder they throw, the farther they go.
Henriquez gave up 800 feet worth of homers on consecutive pitches Tuesday night as the Buffalo Bisons rallied in the eighth inning to score a 5-3 victory over the Zephyrs before 11,606 at North AmeriCare Park.
The Herd tied the game when Trenidad Hubbard bashed a two-ball fastball from Henriquez out of the park to straightaway center. Henriquez came back with another fastball to Richie Sexson who, on a hunch, had set up a speed trap. He scalded the pitch on a line out to straightaway center for his second homer of the game and his 20th on the season.
Jeff Manto followed up with a pinch-hit RBI single off Mark Mimbs, securing the Herd's eighth straight victory over the Zephyrs and win No. 11 in 14 games on the season series. The three-game set concludes at 1 p.m. today with Steve Kline (3-3, 4.30) scheduled to oppose Donne Wall (6-3, 3.50).
Henriquez had enjoyed success against the Bisons before Tuesday night. In three earlier appearances he had compiled an earned run average of 1.13 over eight innings. He also had walked four and hit a batter. Surely Henriquez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan, has the respect of about every hitter in the American Association.
"He's an outstanding pitcher," Sexson said. "He has great stuff and a great curveball."
"He's a very good pitcher," Hubbard concurred. "Throws hard; good breaking ball. He has a fastball that doesn't lose altitude, a riser. And then he throws some that cut. So he's a tough pitcher."
But it's easier to prepare for the heat when you know it's coming. Henriquez painted himself into a corner when he missed on his first two pitches to Hubbard.
"He supplied everything I needed," Hubbard said. "He fell behind early; I knew he had to come fastball. I just didn't want to overswing. There's times when you get 2-0 and you overswing. But I didn't want that scenario to happen."
The score tied, up stepped Sexson. Hubbard had barely settled back into the dugout by the time Henriquez's next pitch took the express out to center.
"Actually, I cheated a little bit," Sexson said. "I looked fastball and I got it."
Sexson, who also homered off starter Trever Miller leading off the fourth, has his second 20-homer campaign in his last three minor-league seasons.
"Twenty is always good," he said. "To get 20 means you've had a solid year home run-wise."
Sexson still has 4 1/2 weeks to improve on that total, and don't forget he missed a month with a shoulder injury. And given his vastly improved play at first base, it seems likely the Indians will lose him in the expansion draft if they fail to protect him.
Once Hubbard and Sexson had done their damage, one of two things figured to happen. The next batter, Bruce Aven, would either take the mightiest of cuts at the next pitch, or he'd be ducking.
As it turned out, Speedy Gonzalez couldn't have evaded Henriquez's next offering. The ball struck Aven in the elbow, leading plate umpire Eric Cooper to deal Henriquez an instant ejection. Aven, however, absolved Henriquez of malicious intent.
"It was a breaking ball," Aven said. "It wasn't intentional. It's a one-run game. He's not going to hit me on purpose there."
The late barrage made a winner of reliever Danny Graves, who was pitching for the first time since going on the disabled list June 19 with tendinitis of the right arm. Graves allowed two hits and a walk in two innings and then proclaimed his arm healthy.
"It was good to be out there finally," Graves said. "It was exciting. I had a lot of adrenaline the first inning. The second inning I was tiring. All I have to worry about is building up my endurance."
Graves and the Bisons got a chance at victory thanks to another solid start by Ben Blomdahl, who allowed three runs in seven innings. The Bisons haven't given up more than three runs to New Orleans in any of their last eight meetings.
The Bisons activated Graves and infielder Pat Listach before the game. Listach started at shortstop and went 1 for 3 with an RBI. To make room on the roster, Randy Curtis and reliever Angel Miranda were placed on the DL.