It was a classic game for the Buffalo Bashers.
We don't know yet if the '98 Bisons will be remembered for an unlikely division championship, but this club will certainly claim its place as the most power-laden group of the modern era.
The Buffalo lumber was humming again Monday on a windy, humid night at Frontier Field. Four home runs keyed an 8-5 win over the Rochester Red Wings that pulled Buffalo within a half-game of idle Syracuse in the International League North.
Pawtucket is two back after a 6-2 win at Ottawa that snapped the Lynx's franchise-record nine-game winning streak. The Bisons open a six-game homestand tonight at North AmeriCare Park with a doubleheader against the Lynx (6, Radio 1520).
The four homers tied the post-1985 franchise record of 182 set last season. And there are still 15 games to play.
Alex Ramirez clubbed a two-run shot to right in the first, his 29th of the season. Bill Selby's solo blast in the fourth was his 13th of the year and seventh in eight games.
The Herd broke up a 6-5 game in the eighth with two mammoth blasts off Red Wings lefty Gavin Osteen.
Jacob Cruz cranked an opposite-field shot off the scoreboard in left to give the Herd some breathing room and Phil Hiatt went the other way to right to close the scoring.
It was Hiatt's 30th of the season, one shy of the franchise record, and his first since Aug. 12 at Syracuse. He was just 6 for his last 39 until the home run.
"It's been a real struggle the past couple weeks," said Hiatt. "I just had to get that one out of the way. I had been pressing too much, but the team has been picking up the slack for me. Bill (Selby) has been on fire and a real key.
"That's the thing about this lineup. Anybody can catch fire and carry the team. I'm glad there are other guys here who can do that and there's not as much pressure on you."
Keep in mind this is a lineup that will be bolstered tonight by a returning Jeff Manto, who has 19 home runs in 48 games. With one more, he'll make this team the first Buffalo club since 1961 with four 20-homer men. Hiatt, Ramirez and the departed Richie Sexson (21) have already reached that number.
"They have the prototype Triple-A lineup," said Rochester manager Marv Foley, whose club dropped three of four games in the series. "They just outclassed us."
Ramirez's home run gave him 95 RBIs, just seven shy of Brian Dorsett's 1992 franchise mark.
"Monster year for Ramirez," said manager Jeff Datz, noting that the 23-year-old outfielder missed 22 games due to a knee injury suffered May 1. "He's done everything we've asked. If he hadn't missed that time, who knows where he'd be sitting? He's a definite MVP candidate to me."
Starter Chris Nichting (8-5) struck out a season-high eight batters in six innings and three relievers preserved the effort.
Rich Batchelor pitched a hitless ninth for his 20th save, becoming just the second modern-era Bison to reach that figure.
The Cruz and Hiatt homers came in direct response to the Bisons' key escape of the night.
It came in the seventh after Ben Blomdahl entered the game and gave up consecutive singles to Jesus Tavarez and P.J. Forbes to put runners on the corners with nobody out.
Danny Clyburn then grounded a Blomdahl sinker to Jeff Branson at third. Branson froze Tavarez at third and fired to Enrique Wilson at second for the force. With Forbes bearing down on him, Wilson gave Tavarez a quick look and relayed to first for the double play.
Tavarez, who didn't properly read a ball hit nearly right at him, held third and never broke for the plate on an around-the-horn double play.
Jim Poole relieved Blomdahl and got Derek Lee on another grounder to Branson to end the inning. Branson, down on injury rehabilitation from Cleveland, was a defensive stalwart during the series.
"Clyburn hit a tailor-made double play ball and it's tough to blame Tavarez when the ball is hit right at the bag like that," Blomdahl said. "Jeff froze the runner and Enrique has one of the quickest turns I've seen. That was really big for me."
Poole continued his spectacular relief. He has an 0.87 ERA and 16 strikeouts in his 13 appearances.
Boosted by Blomdahl and Poole, the offense created some breathing room on the scoreboard the best way it knows how as Cruz blasted the inning's first pitch to give Buffalo a two-run cushion.
"You could feel our defense woke us up and inspired us the next inning," Blomdahl added.
"That double play is huge and we got a little momentum from that," Datz said. "Then our guys come up and 'Boom.' "