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SLUMPING HERD HEADS SOUTH ON FOUR-GAME SKID

At times like this, a nine-hour bus ride is the kind of punishment the Buffalo Bisons deserve.

The Herd hit the road Sunday night for the long trip south to Louisville, Ky. after enduring a four-game sweep at the hands of the Richmond Braves in Dunn Tire Park. Sunday's 3-2 Richmond victory was the first time the Herd has been blanked in a four-game set at home since Durham pulled the trick in June, 1999.

"It might be good for us to get on the road and try to regroup," said manager Marty Brown. "We have to try to get back to our old selves again."

The four-game losing streak is the Herd's longest of the year and things don't get any easier. Louisville leads the IL West and had won six straight heading into Sunday night's game against Rochester.

Meanwhile, Richmond won its sixth straight Sunday and moved into first place in the IL South, a half-game ahead of Norfolk. The R-Braves had been 4-16 in Buffalo since the Herd rejoined the IL in 1998 and had dropped 12 of the last 13 meetings at Dunn prior to this series.

"They seemed to capitalize on about everything we did the whole series," said Brown. "We kicked the ball, they took advantage of it. We got behind in the count or had a leadoff walk, they took advantage of it. They're going good right now."

The Bisons are not. Starter Jamie Brown (4-2) -- who had walked just three men in 33 2/3 innings all season -- allowed five free passes in five innings Sunday and was consistently behind in the count. The offense didn't help him as Buffalo failed to get a runner past first base in the final four innings and posted nine more strikeouts.

The Bisons struck out 44 times in the series and hit just .240. They scored only eight runs in the final 33 innings after tallying seven in the first three frames of Thursday's series opener.

"Situational hitting killed us three of the four games," Marty Brown said. "We didn't get runners in from third base and that's something we have to concentrate on."

Richmond broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth. Designated hitter Bo Porter (who was 9 for 15 in the series) singled with two out and stole second. On Jamie Brown's next pitch, a full-count delivery, former Cleveland farmhand Jason Fitzgerald singled to left-center to drive in the winning run.

Fitzgerald, who spent most of the last three years at Double-A Akron, played in four games for Buffalo last season.

Travis Hafner's RBI single in the first gave the Bisons a 1-0 lead but it was short-lived. An error by second baseman Greg LaRocca on a potential inning-ending double play helped prolong Richmond's two-run second. Buffalo tied it in the fourth on back-to-back doubles from Alex Escobar and Luis Garcia but did little the rest of the way.

"We were fortunate to catch them at a good time," Richmond manager Pat Kelly said of the Bisons. "It just seemed every time a groundball got fumbled or something else happened, we'd get a key hit."

Richmond starter Andy Pratt (2-3) went seven innings and the Braves' bullpen blanked Buffalo again. Travis Phelps struck out the side in order in the ninth for his second save.

Richmond relievers had a 1.72 ERA in the series and all three of the earned runs they allowed came on a three-run homer Friday night by LaRocca.

"(Hitting coach) Carlos Garcia and I have talked to our guys about having a plan at the plate before we go up there," Brown said. "The stuff we saw was not something we can't handle and we can correct it."

"I haven't been able to win in this park, going all the way back to when I was with Indianapolis (in 1991 and '92)," said Kelly, who also managed Ottawa in 1998 and Syracuse in 1999. "This place has been a nightmare for me and for Richmond the last three years. So we'll take our wins and get out of here."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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