Two former big-league second basemen who spent many nights across the diamond from each other during the 1980s met up again Monday night in Coca-Cola Field. Their teams are going in pretty different directions.
In his second year at the helm of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg appears to have a team that will once again challenge for the International League's Governors Cup. Right now, at least, first-year Buffalo Bisons manager Wally Backman has a team that can barely get out of its own way.
It was a mismatch in the opener of a four-game series as the Pigs rumbled past the Herd, 8-2, at the wind-whipped and mostly empty downtown ballpark.
Lehigh Valley (10-2) has won six straight, one shy of its franchise record, and owns the league's best record in a fast start after losing to Columbus in last year's Governors' Cup finals. The Bisons (5-7) are already five games behind the IronPigs in the IL North.
Until Monday, Sandberg and Backman had not crossed paths since Backman's National League career ended with Philadelphia in 1992.
"It's great to see him," Sandberg said. "We battled in those Cubs-Mets series all those years and hadn't crossed since. It's good to see him in the league."
"We talked, kind of reminisced a little bit," Backman said. "It was good, real good to talk to him."
The pregame meeting was certainly the highlight of an otherwise dreary night for Backman. Sandberg, on the other hand, watched his team put together another solid outing.
"We've been good in one-run games (5-0), and that's really helped," said Sandberg. "Guys have worked hard and come together quickly as a team. We've been able to do things to win games, and it's a good sign."
The signs continue to be bad for the Bisons. Four pitchers combined to walk 10 more batters, six by starter Jeurys Familia. Buffalo's total of 66 in 12 games is the most in the minor leagues.
"It's trying to be too fine, and that's the bottom line," Backman said. "You fall behind hitters and then you have to throw the ball over the plate and it gets hit hard. When it gets hit hard, you get more fine and you walk more guys.
"This is Triple-A. We're supposed to be polishing players to get to the big leagues. When a team walks 10 guys, not just today but other days, that's unacceptable."
But the walks are far from the only issue. A throwing error on right fielder Adam Loewen contributed to three first-inning runs as Loewen overshot third base when it appeared he would double off Hector Luna for the inning's third out. A run scored on the overthrow and Derrick Mitchell followed with a two-run double to make it 4-0, and that was basically that.
The Bisons were 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position -- dropping their average in that category to an anemic .198 -- and left 11 men on base.
Lehigh Valley equaled its season-high run total and got 5 2/3 innings from starter Austin Hyatt. The IronPigs are second in the IL with a 2.47 team ERA and lead in saves (9).
The paid crowd was 4,395, but there were only about 300 in the stands as fierce winds sent the temperature plummeting and made every fly ball and pop-up an adventure.
"That was pretty wild. That was some old Candlestick Park [in San Francisco] on its worst night," Sandberg said. "It was a game of survival out there."
The series continues tonight at 6 (Radio 1520 AM) as Chris Schwinden meets Lehigh Valley lefty and former Bison Pat Misch (both 1-1). Schwinden was Buffalo's Most Valuable Pitcher in 2011, while Misch took the award in 2010.