When the Buffalo Bisons returned home Tuesday after a two-week road trip to open a series against the Syracuse Mets, they were just 4-7 in Sahlen Field and batting a sickly .185 in their home park.
A week of warmer weather, sunshine and several dramatic comebacks later, their outlook is quite a bit different.
The Herd is still nowhere in the International League's first-half standings, but a tremendous series against Syracuse gives plenty of hope there will be things to watch here this summer.
"We've shifted our mindset to having team at-bats and we're just doing the little things to win now," shortstop Ernie Clement said after going 5 for 5 in Buffalo's 9-3 win Sunday over Syracuse. "We're running the bases a lot better, starting to play some good defense. It's just been fun to watch."
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Down by a run and down to its final strike with two outs and nobody on, Buffalo rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to escape with an 8-7 victory.
Sunday's crowd of 6,231 was the latest group to get in on the fun as the Bisons completed a 5-1 series. Buffalo batted .345 and scored 48 runs in the six games against the Mets' affiliate, posting four of their wins in walkoff fashion. The Herd collected 16 hits Sunday, including home runs by Clement, Davis Schneider and Tanner Morris.
"Believe me, I'd like to have like a seven-run lead in the ninth inning and not have to play the bottom half," joked manager Casey Candaele. "But it's just a testament to the players that they're going out and playing until the final out.
"From where we started and the struggles that we've had, this has been a good sign. We have to build on this and keep and keep playing."
Morris and Schneider both went 3 for 4 and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Morris, whose walkoff single won Saturday's game, had three RBIs.
"We were pretty frustrated, but it's 150 games," Morris said. "With the weather, sometimes it takes a while to get going. I've been part of plenty of teams that struggle through the first month, even the second month, and it turned out to be a top-two team in the league."
The Bisons are still just 18-21, and Norfolk is running away with the first-half title at 28-10. But players are heating up all over the Buffalo lineup, and the second half doesn't begin until June 28.
Clement, for instance, went 11-24 in the series to boost his average for the season from .253 to .315.
"It's a different guy coming up with a big hit each time," Clement said. "Guys leading up to all these big at-bats battled and have just been passing the baton back to the next guy. I'm just trying to get on base for those guys behind me, because they're a heck of a group and they're showing they can really hit."
Ernie Clement goes 5-for-5!The @BlueJays infielder knocks his fifth homer on a big day at the plate for the @BuffaloBisons. pic.twitter.com/cbxwHUrWOR— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) May 15, 2023
The April cold in Buffalo is a reality. Clement is a Rochester native, so he knows. And Candaele played here in the '90s and is well aware, as well.
"I'm not giving players that excuse, but I kept telling them that we were going to hit," Candaele said. "I said to them that you guys have hit in the past and you will now. That was not my issue. My issue is playing good defense, pitching well. If you do that, you can be successful, and that's what we're seeing."
Around the horn
• The Bisons briefly stopped the game after the fifth inning to hold a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the racist mass shooting at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue. It came at the closest break to 2:28 p.m., the time the shooting began.
The names of the 10 victims were read and projected on the center field scoreboard as the fans stood and the teams came in front of their dugouts to join the tribute.
For the second day in a row, the Bisons painted the initials of the victims in the dirt circle around home plate.
• The first weekend of the ABS challenge system appeared to go off with few hitches as players challenged balls and strikes calls and the result quickly appeared on the scoreboard.
The Buffalo Bisons open a two-week road trip at Gwinnett and even though the season is 20 games old, International League teams are now embarking on a new phase to the campaign.
Jordan Luplow shifted a count from 0-2 to 1-1 Friday night with a successful challenge that led to his game-winning home run. On Sunday, Bisons first baseman L.J. Talley and Syracuse second baseman Ronny Mauricio both wiped out called third strikes with good challenges. Talley then flied out, but Mauricio doubled.
• The Bisons are off Monday and start a new six-game series here Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. against Rochester. The Red Wings (15-22) are last in the IL and are just 4-14 on the road, the worst mark in the league.