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When weather is cool, Herd start season hot

A visit to the office of Bisons manager Gary Allenson deep within the bowels of Coca-Cola Field is always good for a story or two. Or three. Allenson was a light-hitting catcher for the Boston Red Sox in the late 70s and early 80s, first playing behind Carlton Fisk and then sharing time behind the plate with Rich Gedman.

Sitting with Allenson earlier this week, he talked about listening to former Boston manager Ralph Houk having a meeting in the clubhouse early one season. It was one of those cold April nights turning into May, just like we’ve had here all week.

“He gets us all together when a lot of the key guys in the lineup were struggling,” Allenson said of an era when the likes of Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans were those names. “He’d have that meeting and he’d go, ‘Guys, you know what? Don’t worry about your batting average right now. You guys that hit .280, .290, .300, you’re gonna hit your .280, .290, .300. And you guys who hit .220 are gonna hit your .220. So I looked around and said, ‘Damn, another bad year.’ ”

Let the record show Allenson, who never hit above .230 in any full big-league season, was laughing heartily at his punchline. The point is that it’s a long season and you have find your niche in it and let the numbers play out.

The Bisons are gritting the cold nights trying to do just that. So far they have survived through another pretty decent April, which closes with Thursday afternoon’s 1 p.m. matinee against Norfolk.

The Bisons are 13-7 after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Tides. That makes them 43-24 in April in their three years as a Toronto affiliate.

The Bisons poked the Lehigh Valley IronPigs seven times in eight meetings this month, scoring 43 runs in those contests. They are just 6-6 in the other 12 games, totaling just 28 runs. They won Wednesday’s game thanks to a passed ball on Norfolk catcher Rossmel Perez during an intentional walk in the eighth (Pace-of-play proponents take note: Always make the pitcher throw the four balls. You never know).

The Bisons scored a run in the first to snap a 19-inning drought and didn’t tally again until the eighth. They’ve got just three runs in the last four games, so some afternoon sunshine and warmth Thursday will be welcome.

“We’ve hit some balls hard and haven’t got some breaks,” said No. 9 hitter Caleb Gindl, who alertly scooted home for the winning run. “It’s been cold, it’s been tough battling the weather. There’s been some balls hit really well not going anywhere. If we were striking out every bat, I’d say we don’t have anything going, but we’re hitting balls hard and not catching the right break.”

Let’s see what breaks the Bisons catch in May and June. In those months the last two years with the Blue Jays, Buffalo’s record is just 54-63. Injuries and decisions made by the parent club can often change the fabric at Triple-A, and Buffalo has suffered.

This year, you wonder if things will be better. If anything, the Bisons could get some help. If the Blue Jays feel their rookie moves aren’t working, you wonder how quick they might send center fielder Dalton Pompey back down the QEW. Same for bedraggled kiddie closer Miguel Castro, who has now lost his job to Brett Cecil.

The Bisons have a glittering 2.06 team earned-run average – and only two other International League teams are even under 3.00. They have made just nine errors all season and had an 11-game errorless streak that ended Monday. The starters’ composite ERA is 2.36, the bullpen’s is just 1.55, with former AL all-star Steve Delabar (1.23 ERA) and Preston Guilmet (0.79) throwing up another scoreless inning apiece to continue to give the Blue Jays food for thought.

The defense wasn’t much of a surprise to Allenson, given his middle infield choices to start the season included Ryan Goins, Jonathan Diaz and Munenori Kawasaki. Once Jose Reyes gets off the DL in Toronto, either Goins or Diaz will come back and that will help.

The real surprise has been a veteran rotation that has already put together nine quality starts in 20 games. Chad Jenkins was dealing again Wednesday, throwing six strong innings and giving him an 0.38 ERA over his last three outings. These aren’t ace prospects like Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez, who broke camp with Toronto. But prospect Scott Copeland (2-1, 1.44) and 38-year-old Randy Wolf (3-0, 1.57) have to be piquing the Blue Jays’ curiosity a tad.

“We feel our pitching staff is lights out,” Gindl said. “If we can score three or four runs, we feel like we’ve got the game won.”

“Last year we started with Marcus Stroman, we finished with Norris and Sanchez,” Allenson said. “Pretty good arms. We’re not lighting up the radar gun like that, but these guys know what they’re doing out there and it shows. It’s been fun to watch.”

Pitching and defense usually wins. The Bisons have gotten plenty of it. Allenson is banking on the offense to catch up against somebody other than Lehigh Valley. A bizarre break like the Herd got in the eighth inning Wednesday never hurts.