The Buffalo Bisons started their longest homestand of the season with a much-needed triumph, but it may have lost its hottest hitter.
Nick Evans' RBI single into the left center field gap in the seventh inning gave the Bisons the lead for good in a 4-2 victory over the Norfolk Tides on a rainy Friday night at Coca-Cola Field. Bisons third baseman Zach Lutz, however, left the game in the fourth inning after being hit in the head with a pitch. Manager Tim Teufel said after the game that Lutz had a headache and will be evaluated again today.
The Herd broke a tie at 2 in the seventh when Evans singled home Bubba Bell. Bell got into scoring position by stealing second and then a wild pitch moved him to third before he scored on Evans' knock. Evans tried to stretch the hit into a double, but was thrown out to end the inning.
Clean-up hitter Fernando Martinez tacked on an insurance run with an opposite field solo homer to left in the eighth. Friday was the start of a season-long 10-game homestand for the Bisons, who finished 3-5 during an eight-game road trip through Norfolk and Durham.
"Anytime you come home and start the homestand with a win it's a good feeling," Evans said. "Hopefully we can get some momentum going into this homestand."
Norfolk starter Steve Johnson threw a curve ball that didn't break and struck Lutz on the side of the helmet. Lutz went down immediately and appeared dazed as he sat on the field but walked to the dugout after a few minutes without assistance from trainers. Luis Hernandez entered the game as the pinch runner and played second base while Michael Fisher moved over to third.
"[Today] will tell," Teufel said. "It hit him in a good spot, right near the ear because there's really not a lot of padding in the helmet. It gave him an instant headache so we have to check on him [today]."
The Bisons, who are 10th in batting average (.253) in the 14-team International League, cannot afford to lose Lutz's bat.
Lutz entered Friday night hitting .327 in 13 games since being activated off the disabled list and was extremely productive during the Herd's last road swing. Lutz had a double, two home runs and six RBIs to raise his season average to .318 in 26 games in Buffalo. His solo homer to right center in the first inning gave the Bisons a 1-0 lead.
Lutz has already missed 44 games with the Herd when a line drive hit his left ring finger while he was sitting in the dugout during batting practice. He was scheduled to be activated off the disabled list for a hamstring injury the next day.
"I'd hate to lose him," Teufel said. "We've been waiting for him to come back into the lineup and be a part of the team again. I don't think we're going to lose him -- this may be a one- or two-day thing maybe -- but certainly he's done the job."
The Bisons tied the game at 2 in the fifth when Michael Fisher's hard ground ball hugged the third-base line for a double, then Johnson issued walks to Mike Nickeas and Bell. Luis Figueroa popped out to shallow left to score Fisher but left fielder Tyler Henson took away extra bases from Evans with a back-handed grab. Hernandez then lined out.
Norfolk's Josh Bell, Tyler Henson and Brendan Harris loaded the bases with three consecutive singles in the fourth with no outs before Bell scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Nick Green to tie the game at 1. Bisons' starter Pat Misch froze John Hester with a breaking ball for a strikeout, but the bases were loaded again when home plate umpire Toby Basner ruled that Misch hit Matt Angle. Replays, however, showed the ball hit the bottom of Angle's bat. But the inning ended when Misch got Ryan Adams to line out to second.
Misch, the 29-year-old starter, had a no-decision but was solid, going six innings with seven strikeouts.
The Bisons host Norfolk tonight (7:05, 1520 AM) with Dylan Owen (2-4) facing Mitch Atkins (1-3).
Bisons 4, Tides 2
The Pitch: Evans RBI single in the seventh broke a 2-all tie. Lutz and Martinez hit solo home runs. Misch strikes out seven.
Fast fact: Lutz left the game in the fourth inning after being struck in the head by a pitch.
Next game: Today vs. Norfolk, 7:05 p.m. at Coca-Cola Field (ZOOperstars!).