The joy of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run. A handful of good defensive plays. Surprising pitching. Not enough offense.
Monday night’s home finale was pretty much a typical performance for the 2018 Buffalo Bisons. It was a game filled with bright spots but a loss, this one a 4-2 decision to the Pawtucket Red Sox.
“It’s kind of like the season,” Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said. “We thought we had something going, and we didn’t finish it. We let them get away.”
The Herd went 33-32 in Coca-Cola Field this year, although their home record will read 33-35 for the season. That’s because weather issues and the quirks of the International League schedule forced the Herd to play or complete games as the home team in road parks. And they lost all three of those games.
In Monday’s loss in front of 16,314, the Herd fell to 11-50 when scoring three or fewer runs. The Bisons finished 61-69 overall.
“I definitely think our season was way better than the stats showed,” said outfielder Anthony Alford. “I just think there were times, rough stretches, where we struggled to put it all together. Whether the pitcher would throw good but we couldn’t get the runs, or we would get the runs and then the other team would just outscore us. It was just those streaks where we didn’t put it all together. I still think we’re a very good team.”
It was Pawtucket that got on the board first, opening the game with an RBI on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice from Sam Travis.
But the Bisons had their own opening offense to showcase. Dwight Smith Jr. had a one-out single. Then Guerrero gave the Bisons the lead, blasting a two-run homer over the left center field wall. It was the fifth homer of the season for Guerrero, who finished the game 1 for 4 as his batting average dipped to .349.
“He’s a good mature hitter,” Meacham said. “What we’re seeing is a guy that attacks pitches that are in his zone. That’s the key. That’s the key with all these guys. We talk to them all the time about it. They work on their mechanics. They work on different things, but we basically boil it down to the same thing – if you swing at good pitches, you have a chance to hit.”
Juliandry Higuera made his Triple-A debut coming on to pitch in the fourth inning. The 23-year-old left-hander from Venezuela has played six years in the minors but had never progressed past Single-A. He was called up to the Herd from the Dunedin Blue Jays along with Andrew Case from Double-A New Hampshire to give the Bisons' pitching staff a boost after Murphy Smith and Danny Barnes were called up to Toronto.
“When they came here, they were ready to go,” Meacham said of Higuera and Case. “That’s the key. Everybody gets opportunities, whether it’s big or little. When they get it, they make something out of it like those two did.”
Higuera did a solid job in his first two innings, allowing just one walk. But his sixth was a shaky, and costly, for the Bisons. Higuera gave up a lead-off double to Brandon Phillips then walked Michael Chavis. He got Travis to ground out but left the game with one out and runners on second and third.
Craig Breslow came in and gave up a walk then a bases-loaded single to Mike Miller and another to Kyle Wren. Alford saved one run on Wren’s single, gunning out Josh Ockimey at home plate.
“I think it’s all about knowing who’s on the bases,” Alford said. “If they had someone with speed or their lead-off guy on base, I wouldn’t have tried. I just felt like if I could charge the ball hard enough, I’d have a shot at the plate. Instead of scoring two runs, they only scored one and at the end of the game it gives us a better shot.”
By the end of prolonged top of the sixth, the Bisons held Pawtucket to just two runs but found themselves trailing, 3-2.
Still, the Bisons had a shot in the eighth with singles from Smith and Alford. But Dalton Pompey grounded out to second base to end the inning.
The PawSox added a run in the ninth on two-out single by Rusney Castillo. And while Darnell Sweeney had a two-out single in the last ups, Gunnar Heidt struck out swinging to put a wrap on the baseball season in downtown Buffalo.
The Bisons complete their season on the road, playing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Rochester then playing four games in Syracuse, closing out the season on Sept. 3.