When it comes to playoff time, the Buffalo Bisons and Indianapolis Indians seem destined to take a series to its limit.
The Indians squashed the Herd's clinching quest for the second straight night Saturday, holding on for a 4-1 win in Dunn Tire Park that evened the Governors' Cup semifinals at two wins apiece.
Designated hitter Graham Koonce's home run to deep left-center snapped a 1-1 tie in the top of the fourth and proved to be the winning run. J.J. Furmaniak's two-out, two-run shot to left off reliever Kaz Tadano provided crucial insurance in the top of the ninth and quieted the crowd of 3,270.
Indianapolis and Buffalo have gone the route in both of their previous postseason meetings. Indy won the final game, 4-1, in 1996 and the Bisons posted a 6-2 win in 1997. Both American Association semifinal series were decided in Buffalo.
Indy starter Chris Enochs and three relievers combined on a five-hitter Saturday, holding Buffalo hitless the final 4 1/3 innings.
The teams will play the decisive Game Five here tonight at 6:05 (Radio 1230 & 1330 AM).
"We looked a little tight at the plate and . . . there were a lot of swings we hadn't taken in a while," said Buffalo manager Marty Brown. The parent Cleveland Indians have given the Bisons permission to bring Game One winner Jason Davis back on three days rest to be tonight's starting pitcher. Indianapolis will counter with righty Justin Reid (7-5, 5.82 ERA). Davis was 8-5, 4.61 during the regular season.
As part of ceremonies to honor the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bisons are offering free admission to tonight's game to any military, police, fire, EMT and law enforcement personnel with official ID.
The other International League semifinal is also going the distance. Norfolk won Saturday at Toledo, 3-2, on Brian Daubach's two-out RBI double in the top of the ninth. The teams meet tonight in Toledo, and the winner hosts Game One of the finals Tuesday night.
Indianapolis has not overcome a 2-0 deficit in a series since stunning Rochester by winning the final four games of the 1988 Triple-A Classic (Randy Johnson put the Tribe ahead by winning Game Five). The Bisons, meanwhile, are trying to avoid the indignity of blowing a 2-0 lead for the first time since they lost the last three games of the 1991 American Association finals at Denver.
"Baseball is a funny thing, a game of inches," said Buffalo first baseman Mike Kinkade, who drove in the Herd's only run with a third-inning single and narrowly missed collecting RBIs in his final two at-bats. "As soon as some balls move over a couple feet (and stay fair), we'll score some runs."
The Bisons came back from 0-2 last year in their semifinal against Durham, winning the final three games in Buffalo. That marked the first time any International League squad had made such a rally since Pawtucket beat Maine in the 1984 finals.
The Bisons got six strong innings from starter Jason Young and made several gold-star defensive plays. They simply didn't get enough offense. Young fell behind Koonce in the fourth with a first-pitch slider and then couldn't get a fastball by the Tribe's cleanup hitter, who is 8 for 16 in the series.
"It was just a pitch I left up and he hit out," Young said. With two out in the eighth and the Bisons still down by a run, Kinkade lofted a high drive to deep right-center but Cesar Crespo hauled it in with a running catch at the wall.
"I thought it had a chance," Kinkade said. "I just didn't have enough behind it."