Buffalo Bisons right fielder Matt Tuiasosopo is wielding a hot bat and manager Wally Backman is rewarding him with a shot at the coveted cleanup slot in the order the last two games. So far, so good.
Tuiasosopo had a key RBI double Monday to help break open a 7-1 win over the Columbus Clippers and stroked the game-winning hit Tuesday, an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to snap a 1-1 tie and send Buffalo to a 3-1 victory over the two-time defending International League champions in Coca-Cola Field.
The Bisons scored a run in the first but managed just one hit over the next six innings against Clippers starter Eric Berger and reliever Dan Wheeler. In the eighth, Chris Ray got the first out but Fred Lewis and Valentino Pascucci worked walks. Tuiasosopo fell behind, 1 ball and 2 strikes, but then pulled a Ray slider into left-center field to drive home Lewis with the go-ahead run.
Pascucci, who has reached base in 23 straight games, scored an insurance run as pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin beat out the relay of a potential double-play ball.
"I was just battling, got a little out of my zone the first pitch swinging at the slider," Tuiasosopo said. "When it got to two strikes, I was just trying to put the ball in play. I was able to just get that bloop in there. Right there, I just have to make something happen."
Tuiasosopo has been an RBI guy before in his career, with a career-high 77 last year at Tacoma in the Seattle chain and 73 for the same club in 2008. But he hasn't been much of an average hitter the last three years in Triple-A, combining to bat just .240 in Tacoma.
He was batting just .212 for the first 13 games this season with the Bisons but has hit .324 since. And he's at .347 over the last 13 games to push his season mark to .299.
"It was big. 'Tui' was up in a good spot," Backman said. "He's kind of been one of our mainstays in the middle of the lineup after the start of the season and for him that was a big hit."
Tuiasosopo has spent most of his time batting fifth this year but got two hits in a cleanup role May 13 at Charlotte. Combined with the last two days, he's 5 for 10 as a No. 4 hitter. With shortstop Omar Quintanilla taking his 27 RBIs to New York, Tuiasosopo's 25 are second on the current roster to Pascucci's 37.
"I don't care if it's 4-hole, 5-hole, 7-hole. You've got to swing it and put the ball in play," Tuiasosopo said. "Whatever the situation is, bring a guy in. Move a guy over. It feels good to be in the 4-hole. Wally believes in me, believes I can drive in some runs. So it felt good to come through in that spot today."
A crowd of about 1,000 (there were 4,827 tickets sold) saw a tight duel between Berger and Buffalo ace Matt Harvey. The New York Mets' top draft pick in 2010 battled through six innings but finished with a no-decision, getting denied his sixth straight win. He allowed three hits, struck out five and walked four while throwing 98 pitches.
Harvey left in a 1-1 tie but came close to not allowing a run. He had two outs and nobody on in the Columbus fifth before leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera lined a single for his second hit of the game. Second baseman Jason Donald then apparently struck out on a 2-2 pitch, swinging through it as catcher Lucas May dropped the ball.
Plate umpire Mike Estabrook ruled it a foul ball and a drop, giving Donald another chance, although replays seemed to show Donald swung through with no contact.
Backman, however, said May thought it was a foul tip. The Buffalo manager could not convince the umpires May simply dropped the ball transferring it in his glove, even though they conferred on it.
Harvey tried to refocus on the mound with a pickoff attempt to first but on his next pitch home, Donald lined a shot up the gap in right-center and Carrera, running with the pitch, scored all the way from first to tie the game.
"You want him to try to get through it but a lot of times you see exactly what happened," Backman said. "You think it's a third strike, the hitter puts on a good swing and drives in a run. It's frustrating but part of the game."
To replace Quintanilla, the Mets promoted shortstop Sean Kazmar from Double-A Binghamton, where he was hitting just .236 with one homer and nine RBIs. Kazmar has spent the last three years in Triple-A with Portland (San Diego) and Tacoma (Seattle) and played 19 games for the Padres in 2008. Kazmar did not play Tuesday.
Former Buffalo catcher Josh Thole will return to the Herd tonight on rehab from the Mets (concussion). He will be the designated hitter tonight and then will catch Chris Young's start here Thursday morning. Thole batted .267 for the Bisons in 2010.
Right-hander Jenrry Mejia will make his first start for Buffalo in more than a year tonight at 7:05 (Radio 1520 AM) on the road back from Tommy John surgery. He has been rehabbing at Class A St. Lucie (Fla.) and Double-A Binghamton.