Even though the Buffalo Bisons are in the middle of a heated pennant race, the reality is that the needs of the parent Cleveland Indians will take priority.
That hard fact of life in Triple-A was played out Saturday night at Frontier Field as the Herd dropped a 4-3 decision to the Rochester Red Wings.
The Bisons lost this one largely because Cleveland right-hander Chad Ogea, down on an injury rehabilitation assignment, was completely ineffective. The Red Wings scored all their runs off Ogea (2-1 with Buffalo this year) in the first three innings.
The defeat dropped the Bisons one game behind Syracuse in the International League North. The SkyChiefs beat Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 4-3, by scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth. Pawtucket is 1 1/2 back after a 6-4 loss at Ottawa, which has won eight in a row and has crept within 7 1/2 games.
Trailing by a run, the Bisons' last chance died at the right-field wall in the ninth when designated hitter Bill Selby's one-out blast was hauled in by Roberto Ramirez. Had it cleared the fence, it would have tied the score and given Selby a franchise record with a home run in six consective games.
"I didn't get it good enough," Selby said. "I got a little jammed. I actually thought the one Phil Hiatt hit (a towering fly ball to deep center leading off the inning) had a better chance."
Selby tied the record of five straight games with a two-run shot in the second inning of Friday's 3-2 Buffalo win. In Saturday's contest, he singled in the second, struck out in the fifth and flied to right in the seventh.
A crowd of 9,302 saw the Red Wings tee off on Ogea, who is recovering from tendinitis in the middle finger of his pitching hand. Cleveland general manager John Hart was in the stands as Ogea gave up four runs on six hits in his three-inning stint, which ended with Buffalo in a 4-0 hole.
It could have been worse. The Red Wings scalded four balls right at Buffalo outfielders for line-drive outs.
Ogea, who had already left the ballpark by the end of the game and was unavailable for comment, struggled to get his pitches down in the strike zone. This was the first outing of his third rehab trip to Buffalo this season.
"He wasn't making pitches he wanted to," said manager Jeff Datz. "His stuff wasn't real crisp, but it was his first time out so we have to think he'll be better."
Left-hander Mike Matthews, who would have been Buffalo's starter if not for Ogea's presence, pitched five shutout innings in the first relief outing of his seven-year pro career after 122 starts.
Matthews allowed four hits and walked two, but never had more than one man on base at a time. The Bisons got within a run on Jacob Cruz's mammoth three-run homer in the sixth, but couldn't pull ahead to give Matthews (9-4) his 10th win in a season for the first time in his career.
"I had no idea how to plan or how to prepare for it," Matthews admitted. "Thank God my teammates and Buddy (pitching coach Bud Black) helped me in the bullpen.
"It was fun though. I learned something about coming in and going after guys right at the beginning of the game as a starter. It was good for my learning process."
"A real nice job there," Datz said. "He kept throwing zeroes up on their side of the board and that allowed us a chance to win it."
Rochester catcher Jim Foster touched Ogea for an RBI single in the first and a solo homer in the third, both with two out. Foster is 21 for 50 in 14 games at home this season, but just 7 for 53 on the road.
The Bisons' only rally was in the sixth. With runners on first and second and two out, Cruz worked ahead in the count, 2 and 0, against Rochester starter Chris Fussell (3-1).
Cruz then walloped Fussell's next delivery to dead center field. The ball soared over the 402-foot sign and into the batter's eye another 20 feet beyond the wall, for Cruz's 25th home run of the season (18 with Fresno, seven with Buffalo).
But the Bisons couldn't come up with the tying run and fell to 2-4 at Frontier Field this season. The Herd is just 6-6 overall against Rochester, the North's fifth-place team.
"They (the Red Wings) are a very scrappy team," Matthews said. "They've got little guys who do little things and big guys who can get you, too and we've seen that all year."