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A focus on competition helps the Bisons raise their game

There were two keys for the Buffalo Bisons – consistency and competition.

Finally with steady baseball-worthy weather, the Bisons were able not only to get in games but get in early work, including batting practice on the field and some extra defensive turns.

Then with call-ups to the Toronto Blue Jays, players were able to step into starting roles while others continued to press for playing time.

It all came together in the first winning homestand of the season for the Bisons. They went 5-2, capping the week with a 7-0 win over the Rochester Red Wings at Coca-Cola Field.

"Competing is underrated," Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said. "We talk about development and talent or swinging in the cage but there's something about competing against that pitcher that you've got to face every day and competing to win playing time. It's all about competition. The best guy gets to play. The best guy gets to keep playing. The best guy gets to move up. If I beat him, I go past him. We don't pay enough attention to it sometimes but we've got a lot of guys out there that compete really well."

The Bisons roster at the start of the season was loaded with ranked prospects, along with those younger players looking to turn heads in the organization by succeeding at the Triple-A level.

Shortstop Richard Urena has already been up and down. So, too, has outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and infielder Gift Ngoepe. Outfielders Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford got the call from Toronto this homestand.

And instead of promotions and competition creating jealousy, it's created a culture that drives a collective desire to get better.

"I remember back in my playing days where typically my best friend on the team is the other shortstop," Meacham said. "You share so much what you're doing and you end up in the cage together and you end up battling. You don't even think you're in competition until you go in the game and he's not. You just strive to be the best you can be.

"It's really not an animosity thing. It feels like it could be, but this is a good group of guys. They're fighting for their lives. They're fighting for the people who got them here. They're fighting for the people they've got to support. It's fun to watch them do it."

It was particularly enjoyable Wednesday afternoon as starter Deck McGuire set the tone for the Herd. He pitched eight shutout innings, giving up four hits and one walk with four strikeouts while picking up his third win of the season.

"I just wanted to be aggressive," McGuire said. "Typically on getaway day, a day game, they're going to be aggressive. We kind of played that into our favor, hit our spots, and let them put it in play."

While McGuire kept Rochester off the base paths, the Bisons opened up a 6-0 lead in the third inning.

It started when Roemon Fields got the first hit of the day for the Herd. After a walk drawn by Tim Lopes, Devon Travis singled to right field to score Fields. Dwight Smith Jr. singled on a soft line drive to center to score Lopes and the Herd took a 2-0 lead.

That lead grew to 4-0 when Danny Jansen hit his fifth double of the season to score both Travis and Smith Jr. Jansen took third on a wild pitch then scored on a two-out single from Jason Leblebijian. Gift Ngope, in his second at-bat of the inning, drove in Leblebijian for a 6-0 Bisons lead.

It was the third time in five games the Bisons have batted around. And it's not because of the long ball. It's that all-important baseball truism about timely hitting.

"We just kept battling up there and putting balls in play," Meacham said. "That's what happens when you get to two strikes and some guys will take strike three or blame the umpire or swing at a pitch in the dirt. But we had some good at-bats where we put balls in play and sometimes they fall in even we didn't hit them hard. We got some RBIs out of it."

The Bisons begin a seven-day road trip Thursday when they open a four-game series at Lehigh Valley. The Herd then plays three games at Pawtucket. After a scheduled off day, the Bisons return to Coca-Cola Field on Friday, May 18 to play the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders at 7:05 p.m.

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