The Cleveland Indians signed outfielder Andy Abad to be a run producer in Buffalo, just as he's been most of the last six years. Abad didn't let the Bisons down Friday in his first clutch situation.
Jumping on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the eighth, Abad cooly lined an opposite-field pinch single to left to score Ernie Young and give the Herd a 5-4 victory over the Richmond Braves in the nightcap of a season-opening doubleheader in Dunn Tire Park.
The bases-loaded hit allowed Buffalo to salvage a split after Richmond won the first game, 5-4, by exploding for three runs on back-to-back homers in the top of the seventh off Herd closer Jake Robbins. A two-run blast to dead center by James Jurries tied it, and Andy Marte's solo shot to deep left-center provided the winning margin, ruining a two-home run game by Young.
There were 7,778 tickets sold for the twin bill and about 4,500 fans actually in the house, easily the smallest crowd for a home opener in the ballpark's 18-year history. The team had distributed more than 13,000 tickets for the scheduled opener that was rained out Thursday afternoon.
The four-game series is a rematch of last year's Governors' Cup finals, won by the Bisons in four games that were all played in Buffalo due to poor weather and field conditions in Richmond.
In the eighth inning of the nightcap, Young drew a one-out walk off loser and former Bison Alex Herrera. Ryan Garko singled off Hector Almonte to send Young to third, and Jeff Liefer was intentionally walked. Abad, hitting for Darnell McDonald, made no mistake on Almonte's first pitch.
"I'm looking for a pitch to hit in the outfield," said Abad, 32. "I'm just looking for something that has tight seams, preferably a heater, and I just want to go get it. If you miss that first pitch, at least it's one to get loose with."
Abad doesn't miss too often in such spots. He averaged 75 RBIs per year in Triple-A stints in Pawtucket, Sacramento and Calgary from 1998 to 2003 and was an International League All-Star with the PawSox after leading the IL with 93 RBIs two years ago. He hit .292 last year at Nashville in the Pirates chain in an injury-plagued season that saw him drive in only 49 runs.
In his first few days with the Bisons, Abad has heard the stories about the club's resilience on the road to last year's title. Nine players who appeared in the championship series were on the Herd's opening night roster, plus manager Marty Brown and pitching coach Ken Rowe.
"We already started getting the chemistry together the last few days of spring training, and it's a great group of guys," Abad said. "We know we have boppers on this team and another group of guys who can move it around the infield and hit when situations call for it."
In the nightcap, Richmond took a 2-0 lead off Buffalo starter Dennis Stark before the Bisons rallied to go ahead, 4-2, on Jake Gautreau's two-run homer in the second and Liefer's two-run shot into the party deck in right in the fourth. The R-Braves tied it on a two-out, two-run double to left in the sixth by ex-Bison Scott Pratt.
Gautreau, 25, is a former No. 1 draft pick of the Padres who combined for 19 home runs last year at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Portland. Liefer, 30, had 20 homers and 83 RBIs for Indianapolis.
"Andy (Abad) is a veteran guy who's been around," said Brown. "Liefer's the same. Those guys will be a big benefit. Gautreau is a young guy with Triple-A time who's trying to learn. He's done a great job in the spring making adjustments."
In the opener, Young belted a solo homer to right to open the scoring in the second and a two-out, two-run blast to dead center in the sixth to give Buffalo a 4-2 lead. But Robbins, who was clutch last year with four saves late in the latter portion of the regular season and two more in the playoffs, had a rare off night.
"It was disturbing to see that happen, but it's kind of good to get that out of the way early," Brown said.