In winning their last four games, the Buffalo Bisons could not have hit much better. In losing, 2-1, to the Toledo Mud Hens on Tuesday night, Pat Ahearne made certain the trend would not continue.
The Bisons' four-game winning streak ended at Dunn Tire Park in front of 6,647 on a ground ball by Raul Gonzalez in the ninth, which was appropriate on a night where most hits did not leave the infield. There was the two-run homer by Toledo's Rich Gomez in the sixth that proved to be the difference, and spoiled a solid outing by Bisons starter Francisco Cruceta (3-3).
For the Bisons' batters, Tuesday wasn't as trouble-free as their last three games when they outscored the Syracuse SkyChiefs, 26-11, in a sweep that gave them a two-game lead atop the International League's North Division. Buffalo, nevertheless, remained two up on second-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the Red Barons lost to Durham, 5-4.
Once the Bisons scored their only run in the first inning, when Brandon Phillips came home on a sacrifice fly by Ernie Young, Ahearne had no trouble until the eighth, when he was pulled for Craig Dingman with two out after he walked Ryan Ludwick. Young popped out to short to end the inning.
A sinker ball pitcher with a mean slider, Ahearne pitched 7 2/3 innings, scattering six hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
"He was on his game," Bisons manager Marty Brown said. "He sunk the ball well and I thought (catcher Guillermo) Rodriguez called a good game for him and we really couldn't get anything going except early on."
After the first, only three Bisons reached second base as Ahearne limited Buffalo to several ground balls. In his last outing against Syracuse, Ahearne was overpowered, allowing eight runs on 10 hits in just 5 2/3 innings. He turned things around on Tuesday.
"I just kept making pitches, basically," Ahearne said. "I try not to think ahead too far because I tend to think ahead and not make pitches. I just kind of let the game go as it may."
The 34-year-old right-hander has become somewhat of a baseball nomad. Ahearne's career began in 1992 and has taken him from Lakeland, Fla., to Norfolk, Va., to Bridgeport, Conn., and Erie, Pa., to name a few stops. Only once has the path led to the majors. In 1995, he was 0-2 with an 11.70 ERA with Detroit, a period Ahearne called "several lifetimes ago." But the memories remain vivid.
"Whatever happens from now on, it's nice to say, 'I pitched in the big leagues,' " said Ahearne, who turns 35 in December. "My four games up there were in the oldest ball parks in creation. My first two games were in Tiger Stadium, my next game was at Yankee Stadium and my last game was in Fenway Park."
Cruceta may want to forget about Tuesday, but his performance cannot be ignored. He retired 10 in a row before Gomez singled to left with two out in the fourth for the Mud Hens' first hit. Gomez stole second then Eric Owens walked before Chad Alexander ended the inning by flying out to left. Toledo finally got to Cruceta in the sixth.
Greg Norton walked to start the inning. Then Gomez launched his 415-foot homer over the left field fence for a 2-1 lead. Cruceta struck out Owens, then forced Alexander to ground out to short before he being pulled after walking Brant Ust. Cruceta threw 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on four hits while walking four and striking out four.
"We didn't get the big hit when we needed it," Brown said. "You take what they give you and they just didn't give us much."
Outfielder Jason Tyner, who was recently released by Richmond, was picked up by the Bisons on Tuesday and should be in the lineup today. He was originally selected by the New York Mets with the 21st overall selection in the 1998 June Draft. . . . Jeriome Robertson was designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians, who acquired the left-hander in a March trade from Houston. Robertson is ineligible to pitch for the Herd until he clears waivers and accepts an outright assignment back to Triple A.