Add pitcher Steve Karsay to the list of Buffalo Bisons making huge contributions to the team's August surge.
In his first start since returning from Cleveland, the right-hander pitched four-hit ball over six innings Thursday night. It was the spark in a 6-1 win over the Syracuse SkyChiefs that produced a doubleheader split before a strong weeknight turnout of 13,290 at North AmeriCare Park.
Karsay's outing was a badly needed pickup after the Herd suffered a stunning 6-4, nine-inning loss in the opener. Buffalo led that game, 4-0, afterJacob Cruz's grand slam in the third, but the bullpen couldn't hold the lead and Syracuse eventually won it on Alan Probst's two-run single in the ninth.
The split keeps the teams in a dead heat in the International League North, with Syracuse actually ahead by a percentage point (.568 to .567). Third-place Pawtucket pulled within 1 1/2 games thanks to a 19-6 destruction of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
A six-run fourth was all that was needed as Karsay (6-4) produced one of the season's most clutch outings by a Buffalo starter.
"That first game was a heartbreaker," Karsay said of the opener. "We had it in the bag but we made mistakes and that's going to happen. We just have to minimize our mistakes down the stretch."
Karsay made very few. He gave up a run in the first, but blanked the SkyChiefs on two hits over the final five innings. His seven strikeouts were his second-highest total of the season.
"Awesome," said catcher Steve Soliz. "Anytime a pitcher has a mix like that for strikes, moving the fastball in and out and throwing the breaking ball over, I have a lot of fun back there calling pitches."
"I felt pretty good because I was throwing between outings and doing bullpen work," said Karsay, who threw mostly in relief for Cleveland and hadn't pitched for nine days. "I was still keeping sharp."
Karsay's experience showed in his matchup against Syracuse's Billy Koch, Toronto's 1996 No. 1 draft pick who was making his Triple-A debut after being called up from Class A Dunedin.
"We needed a big win after that first game," Soliz said. "We showed our character."
The big fourth inning began when Cruz led off with a single. Jeff Manto followed by scorching Koch's first pitch over the left-field fence for a two-run homer, his 20th of the season.
After two singles and a walk, Soliz's sacrifice fly to deep left gave the Herd breathing room at 3-1.
"In that situation, with me hitting .225, I knew they'd come right at me and say, 'Beat us,' " Soliz said. "I knew that was a pitch I could hit and I started early, figuring I'd be swinging at a fastball. I just wanted to hit the ball in the air."
The first-game defeat was the seventh time this season the Herd has lost a game it led at one point by at least three runs. Cruz had given Buffalo the cushion by blasting the first pitch he saw from Roy Halladay to deep center field with two outs in the third.
Chad Ogea left after five innings with a 4-1 lead, but things quickly went sour in the sixth. Ben Blomdahl gave up a solo homer to right by No. 9 hitter Tomas Perez -- his first of the season and just his second in his last 675 Triple-A at-bats -- then yielded a single to Jose Herrera before getting Tom Evans to fly out.
Ron Villone struck out lefty Kevin Witt and closer Rich Batchelor came on to face Patrick Lennon. Batchelor couldn't record his 21st save as Lennon ripped his 27th homer of the season, a two-run shot to deep center, to tie the game at 4-4.
The Bisons blew a huge chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth as they loaded the bases with one out, but Phil Hiatt grounded into a double play.
Given a reprieve, Syracuse capitalized. Kevin Witt led off with a liner to left that Cruz bobbled for an error. After two walks (one intentional), Probst lined a full-count pitch under Manto's glove at first for the game-winning hit.
The three-game series concludes tonight at 7:30 (Radio 1520) as Buffalo ace Jason Jacome (13-2) meets Syracuse's Beiker Graterol (8-2).