Bisons pitcher Mike Matthews was a forgotten man during the postseason. Until Tuesday night.
The left-hander went 6 2/3 innings as Buffalo routed the New Orleans Zephyrs, 9-2, to even the Triple-A World Series at one win apiece.
The teams will take the day off today before the series resumes Thursday afternoon at 3:30. The Buffalo victory ensures Game Four will be played Friday night at 11:30.
Aside from Jason Jacome's 14 wins, no Buffalo pitcher earned more victories during the regular season than Matthews (9-6).
But the acquisition of Travis Driskill and the Herd's stunning three-game sweep of Syracuse made Matthews a spectator in the Governor's Cup semifinals. He was left to throw on the side in the bullpen and pitch a simulated game during a workout before the finals against Durham.
That's hardly the kind of preparation you'd recommend to a pitcher expecting to pitch a crucial postseason game.
"I wanted to stay sharp," Matthews said. "I didn't want to sit there and say, 'Jeez, you pitched the whole season and now you're not one of the guys anymore.' I just told myself, 'I'm going to pitch again and it might be a crucial game, so I'll be ready.' "
Matthews sure was ready in a game the Herd desperately needed.
A crowd of 4,090 at Cashman Field saw him allow five hits over the first six innings. He left with two out in the seventh and Buffalo up, 6-2. Unlike Jason Rakers, who was blindsided by unfamiliar New Orleans hitters in Monday's 7-2 defeat, Matthews found the Zephyrs' lineup to be a forgiving one.
"I thought he had a feel for their lineup, even though it was only a one-game look," Bisons manager Jeff Datz said. "He was outstanding. It was a big game for Mike Matthews, great for his development and great for the ballclub."
"It was an unbelievable advantage," Matthews said. "I was fortunate to be second. I was able to see how they (the New Orleans hitters) reacted to his (Rakers') balls and it helped me, no doubt."
Matthews set an immediate tone by retiring the first six hitters and his offense rewarded him as Phil Hiatt's two-run single in the bottom of the first off New Orleans starter Derek Root gave the Herd the lead for good, at 2-0.
Jolbert Cabrera was awarded first base as a hit batsman, a call that television replays showed was dubious. Torey Lovullo then singled him to second on a routine fly ball that fell between center fielder Casey Candaele and right fielder Chad Alexander, and Jeff Manto's one-out walk loaded the bases.
That brought up Hiatt, who was just 4 for 28 in the postseason. He stroked a 1-2 fastball into left-center to score two runs and put Buffalo in command.
"All I wanted to do was put it in play. I didn't want to strike out there," Hiatt said. "I was just trying to make contact, wait to see the ball and react. I wanted to slow everything down."
"That was huge," Datz said. "He needed it and we needed it. It was a big hit and a good start for us."
With an early cushion, Matthews was on cruise control most of the night.
"I know everybody was frustrated by the way we struggled in (Monday's) game," Matthews said. "That just set the tone for the rest of the game. They were on the ropes in every inning. Even their quick innings, I still felt we were putting pressure on them. We just have to carry that over to the rest of the series."
New Orleans scored in the third when Julio Lugo grounded into a double play with runners at the corners, but the Herd exploded for three runs in the bottom of the inning -- all with two out.
Root, a 23-year-old Cleveland native, got the first two hitters on grounders. Manto doubled off the wall to deep center field, Hiatt chopped an infield single and third baseman Russell Branyan doubled into the right-field corner to make it 3-1.
James Betzsold then stroked a two-run single for a 5-1 lead. Lovullo led off the fifth with a triple to left-center and scored on Jacob Cruz's sacrifice fly to deep center to make it 6-1.
The Herd added three more in the eighth, two on Manto's bases-loaded double into the left-field corner, to assure Matthews of the victory. Chris Nichting and Jason Grimsley retired the final seven hitters in relief.
"Mike (Matthews) did a great job for us, right when we needed it," Hiatt said. "Now we know we're going to be here another night and we can carry on with the way our offense went tonight."