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BISONS HOLD A BATCHELOR PARTY

Relief pitchers used to drive former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver crazy. Things got so hairy in the late '70s that closer Don Stanhouse earned the nickname "Fullpack" because he forced Weaver to chain-smoke in the dugout during his outings.

Weaver was at Frontier Field on Sunday as part of a Rochester Red Wings promotion, but didn't witness any of the nervous moments Bisons fans have endured this year with Rich Batchelor on the mound.

Batchelor, who has been living on the edge much of the season, seems to have sharpened just when the Herd needs him most.

The right-hander pitched a dominant ninth inning Sunday to wrap up Buffalo's 3-1 win over the Wings. He retired all three batters he faced, two on groundouts and one on a strikeout, to record his 19th save.

It was the second save of the series for Batchelor, who figures to get several more chances as the wacky International League North race winds down. The Bisons remained one game behind Syracuse, which outslugged Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 9-7, Sunday night. Pawtucket is 2 1/2 back of the SkyChiefs after suffering a 4-3 loss at Ottawa, its third straight. The win was the ninth in a row for the Lynx.

"I go out and say my prayers hoping things go well," Batchelor said. "It's great to be able to come in on a consistent basis. I'm going to get more appearances when we're ahead and I really give credit to the coaching staff for getting me in in those situations."

Batchelor, 31, was one of Cleveland's best winter pickups for the Bisons' roster. He was with St. Louis and San Diego last year, and led the American Association with 28 saves for Louisville in 1996.

His 19 saves tie Danny Graves' 1996 total for the second-most in modern Bisons' history, five off the record of 24 set by Tony Menendez in 1993.

This save gave Buffalo a 2-1 edge in the four-game series and allowed starter Jason Jacome to improve to 13-2. Jacome scattered seven hits and struck out seven in seven innings.

"The whole team did a great job," Batchelor said. " 'Jac' threw the ball well and the guys hit the ball hard when they needed to. It was a great team effort."

Buffalo's relief pitching, spotty at times during the season, has been much more reliable of late. Three wins and three saves have helped key the club's 9-3 burst that has wiped out an eight-game deficit.

Batchelor is 19 for 26 in save chances, including four straight, and has stranded 14 of the 18 runners he's inherited this season. Jeff Sexton pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and, like Batchelor, didn't allow a ball out of the infield.

"Very efficient," manager Jeff Datz said of the bullpen. "I don't just like that, I love that. Our bullpen threw quality strikes. We weren't nibbling. We came in and we were aggressive in the strike zone."

Batchelor has a nasty sinker, but control has been a problem at times as evidenced by his 24 walks and six wild pitches in 51 innings. His earned run average is high for a closer at 3.53.

"I wish more (of my saves) were like this one," Batchelor said. "It's unfortunate they don't all seem to go that way. When the season started I would have taken 19. But now I'm hoping that number gets a little higher as the team goes all the way."

The Bisons gave Jacome all the offense he would need with a two-run first. Jolbert Cabrera led off with a single, Enrique Wilson doubled him home and Alex Ramirez singled to drive in Wilson and produce his 93rd RBI of the season.

Buffalo's other run came in the third on Phil Hiatt's RBI single. The Herd finished with 10 hits and Ramirez went 3 for 4 to improve his average to .299. The Bisons turned two double plays, giving them seven in the series.

"We hit well in the first inning and after that he (Jacome) threw it really well and made good pitches," Wilson said. "The key today was the pitching and defense. We played very good defense and we know if we keep doing that we'll be all right."

Especially if Batchelor is there in the end.

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