The Buffalo Bisons have run out of days on the calendar.
Once nine games under .500 and 9 1/2 games out of first place in mid-June, the Bisons went on a two-month tear and took the International League playoff race to the final week of the season for the first time in 12 years. But the quest for a North Division title ended quietly Thursday, as a disappointing 7-6 loss to the Rochester Red Wings in Sahlen Field was combined with not enough help out of town two hours later.
Red-hot Syracuse beat Lehigh Valley, 2-0, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre split a seven-hour doubleheader at Pawtucket by winning the nightcap in 10 innings, 8-4. That leaves Scranton and Syracuse tied at 73-63, with the Bisons four games back at 69-67.
Even in the long shot scenario of Buffalo sweeping its final four games this weekend at Scranton and Rochester sweeping four from Syracuse to create a three-way tie at 73-67, the Bisons are done on the basis of their head-to-head record against the other two teams.
The Bisons really only have themselves to blame for not having a real chance the final weekend. They were very sloppy in giving up 17 runs and dropping the last two games to Rochester, and finished the final homestand 3-4 thanks to two losses over the weekend to last-place Pawtucket.
Thursday's loss was especially tough. In a game in which the Bisons held leads of 5-2 and 6-5, the Red Wings won it on first baseman Zander Wiel's two-run homer to deep left-center in the top of the eighth off Buffalo reliever Brock Stewart.
"I don't think we played good tonight," said Buffalo manager Bobby Meacham. "It was one of those things. We kicked the ball around a little bit, gave up big home runs. We've been better, a lot better but hopefully we'll have one more shot at it."
The Bisons' IL-longest playoff drought now extends to 14 seasons. The Herd has not qualified since 2005, its ninth playoff run in 11 years as a Cleveland Indians affiliate. Buffalo did not qualify in its final three years with the Tribe, in any of its four seasons with the New York Mets and are 0 for 7 with Toronto.
The night seemed to be going well. Scranton lost its opener in eight innings, 9-5, as Pawtucket's Juan Centeno hit a walk-off grand slam. The Bisons, meanwhile, grabbed a 5-2 lead on the fifth on a three-run home run to right by Socrates Brito, named the team's MVP earlier in the day.
Rochester tied it, 5-5, on Willians Astudillo's two-out, three-run shot to left in the seventh but the Bisons went back ahead in the bottom of the inning, 6-5, on catcher Michael De La Cruz's solo blast to left. It was his fifth of the season.
"We were hungry," said De La Cruz, who went 3 for 4 in the game. "The focus has always been to fight on the field, do everything we can do. I feel great at the plate and behind the plate. I was just trying to see my pitch."
T.J. Zeuch, who no-hit the Red Wings Aug. 19 in Rochester, extended his hitless streak against the visitors to 10 1/3 innings over three starts until giving up Tomas Telis' second-inning single. He left after 68 pitches over five innings because Blue Jays brass wanted to see Stewart, a recent waiver acquisition from the Los Angeles Dodgers who was the winning pitcher in all three of his relief outings in Toronto before he went sent down.
Stewart gave up five runs in 2 2/3 innings, all of them coming on the pitches to Astudillo and Wiel.
In addition to home runs from Brito and De La Cruz, Buffalo designated hitter Patrick Kivlehan belted his 25th of the season with the Herd and 32nd overall with three teams.
"It's a lot more fun playing for when your wins mean something versus when you're just trying to have guys get better and the wins and losses get kind of lost," Meacham said.
The Bisons announced 14,354 tickets were sold for the finale, leaving the season total at 518,741. The per-game average of 7,981 is fifth in the 14-team league. Thanks largely to terrible weather in April and May, it's a small drop from last year's 8,250 per night and is the lowest since the Herd averaged 7,655 in 2012.