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The 2000s

Untitled Document
Bisons History: The 2000s

2000 (IL)

Record: 86-59 - .593 (1 - North)
Mgr. - Joel Skinner

The Bisons opened the new century with a new manager and it was a familiar face. Joel Skinner, a catcher on the 1985 team that brought Triple-A baseball back to the city, became the first modern-era Bison to return to lead the Herd. And Skinner did his job well, directing Buffalo to an 86-59 record and a North Division championship. The Bisons took over the division lead by going 22-10 in July and had an 80-50 record on Aug. 22. But their 5 1/2-game lead was lost over the final 14 games as the team went just 5-9 and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre forced a tie. Buffalo won a one-game playoff on the road over the Red Barons, 7-1, behind the pitching of Willie Martinez but didn't have the same luck against them in the IL semifinal series that began the next night.

 
The teams split two games in Scranton (Manto's pair of home runs in Game Two were his last in a Buffalo uniform and marked the first multi-homer playoff game in the team's modern era), then the Red Barons won both games in Buffalo to take the series and hand the Herd a disappointing end to its season.
 
Manto hit 12 more home runs in his final Buffalo season to finish with 78, the most in the team's modern era. Russell Branyan, Bill Selby and Danny Peoples led the team with 21 home runs apiece while Selby had a team-high 86 RBIs and joined Peoples at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Rochester. Dave Roberts hit .292 and stole 39 bases, two shy of Tony Womack's 1994 franchise record. Jim Brower led a balanced pitching staff with a 9-4 record and veteran Chris Nichting posted 26 saves, two shy of Tony Menendez's 1993 franchise record. Cleveland star Manny Ramirez thrilled Buffalo fans by hitting .455 with three homers and seven RBIs in five games on an injury rehabilitation assignment.

2001 (IL)

Record: 91-51 - .641 (1 - North)
Mgr. - Eric Wedge

Skinner was promoted to the staff in Cleveland and another new manager was assigned from Double-A in 33-year-old Eric Wedge, believed to be the youngest skipper in franchise history. Wedge showed age didn't matter as his team started 6-0 and posted a 91-win season -- the team's best since 1936 -- that produced a wire-to-wire division title. The team made history on June 25, when it played the 1,000th game in Dunn Tire Park. Karim Garcia provided Buffalo's 602nd win, a 3-2 victory over Louisville, with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. History was also made Aug. 17, when Jeff Manto's No. 30 was retired and placed on the left-field wall in an elaborate post game ceremony. He joined all-time greats Luke Easter and Ollie Carnegie as the only Bisons so honored.
 
The Bisons were 22-6 in May, the best month in their modern era, and veterans such as OF Karim Garcia (31 HRs, 85 RBIs), UT Anthony Medrano, C Tim Laker and Orchard Park native Dave Hollins provided stability for Wedge's club. Dave Roberts batted .303 and stole 17 more bases to give him the modern-era career mark of 97 -- three years before he would record the biggest steal in the history of the game for the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.
 
The pitching staff carried the team with the 3.59 ERA, equaling Buffalo's lowest since 1991. Lefty Mike Bacsik led the way with a 12-5 record while Tim Drew and Jake Westbrook earned eight wins apiece. The playoff opponent was again Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Red Barons once again handed the Bisons a disappointing end to the season. The teams split the first two games in Scranton and Buffalo won Game Three in Dunn Tire Park to take a lead in the series. Scranton-WB won Game Four in 10 innings to force a decisive fifth game in Buffalo.
 
It was a Sunday night, Sept. 9, 2001. Just over 11 years earlier, Buffalo had lost its 18-inning marathon to Nashville on Chris Jones' RBI double into the left-field bullpen. This time, Scranton's Jason Knupfer was the villain with an RBI triple into the right-field corner that sparked a four-run 19th inning and gave the Red Barons a 6-2 series-clinching win. In both innings and time (5 hours, 13 minutes), it was the longest game in the ballpark's history.
 
The Red Barons moved on to the Governors' Cup finals and lost the next night at Louisville, 2-1, on Sept. 10. The next day was Sept. 11, and the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. postponed the series for two days. The International League then canceled the series and awarded Louisville the title. The world had changed and, suddenly, a 19-inning loss in the playoffs didn't seem nearly as important.

2002 (IL)

Record: 84-54 - .609 (2 - North)
Mgr. - Eric Wedge

Wedge's second season was another unqualified success as Buffalo won 87 games, took the IL's wild-card and advanced all the way to the Governors' Cup finals before losing three straight games to Durham. Pitching again led the way with a 3.30 ERA that was the team's best since 1990. Jason Beverlin was the top winner with 10 victories. Earl Snyder led the team with 19 home runs while catcher/utility man Chris Coste batted .318, had 152 hits and led the squad with 67 RBIs. From April 18-28, the Bisons set a franchise record with a 10-game winning streak.
 
Scranton won the division with a 91-51 record but the Bisons got revenge on the Red Barons during the teams' third straight IL semifinal matchup. The Herd won its last five regular-season games and made quick work of Scranton by taking three straight in the semis. The Herd won the opener in Buffalo, 12-3, and took Game Two, 6-5, on shortstop Zach Sorensen's walkoff home run in the 10th inning, the Herd's first game-ender in postseason play. Buffalo then ended the series with a 5-4 win in Game Three at Scranton, scoring four runs to win it in the top of the ninth. Sorensen's two-run triple tied the game and he scored the winning run on Coco Crisp's sacrifice fly, Sorensen, who led the IL with 12 triples during the regular season, finished the series 7 for 12 with seven RBIs.
 
In their first return to the Governors' Cup finals since 1998, the Bisons' opponent was again the Durham Bulls. This time, the series ended quickly. Game One in Buffalo was suspended by rain with the score tied at 4-4 in the top of the 12th. It was completed the next day and Durham scored two runs in the 12th on Emil Brown's home run off the foul pole in right to claim a 6-4 win. The Bulls won the nightcap, 8-1, to take a commanding lead in the series. Between games, the teams held an emotional rememberance ceremony on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The series headed south and Durham wrapped up the title with a 2-0 victory, holding the Bisons to one hit in the clinching game.
 
A few weeks after the defeat, Wedge was named manager of the parent Cleveland Indians for 2003, becoming the first modern-era Buffalo skipper to graduate directly to the big leagues.

2003 (IL)

Record: 73-70 - .510 (3 - North)
Mgr. - Marty Brown

Former Bisons pitcher John Farrell (1987-95-96) took over as the director of player development for the parent Indians, and his first hire as Buffalo's manager was a former opponent. Marty Brown played against the Herd while with Nashville, Rochester and Oklahoma City, and represented the Sounds in the 1988 Triple-A All-Star Game in Pilot Field. The new manager directed his team to a red-hot start but the team struggled down the stretch to finish 73-70 and out of the playoffs for the first time in four years.
 
Power-hitting outfield prospect Alex Escobar led the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (78) and popular utility man Greg LaRocca wrapped up his three-year Buffalo career by batting .290 and earning the club's most valuable player award. Jason Phillips went 10-1 and was one of the IL's top starting pitchers until leaving the team in late June to play in Japan. Lefty Jason Stanford was also a 10-game winner.
 
The home opener was played on April 3 against Pawtucket, the earliest date in franchise history. Buffalo defeated Pawtucket, 10-8, as more than 12,000 fans came for a game played in sleet and 29-degree temperatures. Freezing rain and snow forced postponements of the next six games and the slew of doubleheaders the team was forced to play in July and August contributed to its late-season slide. So did the midseason callups of future Cleveland stars Coco Crisp (who batted .360) and Victor Martinez (.328)
 
The Bisons were 48-30 and had a 5 1/2-game lead in the North Division on June 28 but went just 25-40 the rest of the way. From July 23-Aug. 15, the team was just 5-22 and saw a two-game lead turn into an 8 1/2-game deficit. A five-game winning streak in late August kept alive Buffalo's streak of never having a losing season since the Indians returned in '95.
 
A major off-the-field moment came on July 20 as Jeff Manto and Torey Lovullo, mainstays on Buffalo's 1997 and 1998 championship teams, were inducted together into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame

2004 (IL)

Record: 83-61 - .576 (1 - North)
Mgr. - Marty Brown

Brown returned for his second season as manager and led the Bisons through one of the most improbable campaigns in their history. After the team struggled to a 16-25 start, it responded with some of the best offensive play in franchise annals. The Bisons finished 83-61, winning the North Division by 10 games, and won the Governors' Cup for the first time since 1998 during a dramatic 10-day stretch of playoff games umatched in the modern era.
 
It was a season of amazing individual and team accomplishments. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta became the first Bison since Ted Savage (1961) to earn IL MVP honors as he batted .326 and set modern-era marks in hits (181), runs (109) and doubles (44). Second baseman Brandon Phillips batted .303 with 158 hits and set a team mark with a 51-game on-base streak. Grady Sizemore hit .287 and played spectacular defense in center field. Utility men Brent Abernathy (.294) and Chris Clapinski (.312) had big years, and Clapinski set a franchise mark with four grand slams. Veteran Ernie Young had 27 home runs and Russell Branyan, acquired in an April trade from Atlanta, tacked 25 more homers on to his Buffalo total before being dealt to Milwaukee in August. That gave him 76 for his career, second to Manto's 78 in the modern era and seventh on the franchise's all-time list.
 
The home opener on April 16 marked the debut of the new Heron's Landing Party Deck, which replaced the former right-field bleachers and marked the stadium's first major seating change since 1991. A crowd of 17,104, the largest for an opener since 1999, saw Ottawa win, 10-5, despite the first of Clapinski's slams. The team smashed its modern-era record for runs and hits by collecting 25 of each in a 25-13 win April 29 at Rochester, but struggled through the early part of the campaign.
 
Veteran outfielder Raul Gonzalez, a former IL MVP, was signed as a free agent in late May and his acquisition turned the season around. Things changed on May 22 when Buffalo wiped out an 8-1 deficit over the final two innings and beat Norfolk, 9-8, with Phillips' two-run single capping a five-run ninth. It was the first of an incredible four home victories the team would earn when trailing by seven runs. The Herd did it on back-to-back days in June against Indianapolis (with Clapinski's three-run homer in the ninth providing a 12-11 win in the second game), and again on July 3, as a full house on hand to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra saw early fireworks when the Bisons rallied past Syracuse, 9-8.
 
The Bisons were 9 1/2 games out of first place in mid-June but went 20-8 in June, 16-11 in July and 22-11 in August to take the division by 10 games -- an amazing 19 1/2-game turnaround. The team set franchise records for batting average (.297) and runs (848), both of which were the highest totals in the IL in more than 50 years. They helped overcome an inconsistent pitching staff that had a team ERA (4.71) that was the worst by any Buffalo team since the move downtown in 1988.
 
The pitching came through, however, in the playoffs. Buffalo fell behind, 2-0, in the IL semifinals against Durham before rallying to win three straight games at home -- the last two by shutout -- to take the series. It was the first such comeback in franchise history and the first by an IL team in 20 years. Triple-A rookie Ryan Garko hit two home runs in the 7-0 Game Five clincher and late-season signee Evan Thomas, who tormented Buffalo in the playoffs in 2000 with Scranton, threw eight shutout innings.
 
In the championship series against Richmond, Buffalo fell in the opener, 11-4, but rallied to win Game Two, 4-3, as Sizemore belted a three-run homer in the fourth to tie the game and a throwing error on a bunt in the bottom of the ninth allowed Jason Tyner to score the winning run. The series was supposed to shift to Richmond but remained in Buffalo due to dire weather forecasts in Virginia. The Bisons took advantage of their good fortune by taking Game Three, 5-4, even though the Braves batted last as the "home" team.
 
There was nothing but the feeling of home for Game Four. On Sept. 17, 2004 -- more than 16 years after Dunn Tire Park opened -- the Bisons had their first championship celebration. Buffalo won Game Four, 6-1, as catcher Dusty Wathan drove a three-run double, Thomas threw eight more stellar innings and Garko recorded the final out with a spectacular diving stop of a grounder to first and a feet-first slide into the bag.
 
The Bisons were awarded the Governors' Cup on the field following the game and Brown carted it around the warning track for the fans to share in the victory.

2005 (IL)

Record: 82-62 - .569 (1 - North)
Mgr. - Marty Brown

Brown's third year as manager produced another division title as the Bisons finished 82-62 and won the North by seven games. The team could not, however, match its back-to-back playoff titles of 1997 and 1998 as it won the first two games of the IL semifinals at Indianapolis but lost the last three games at home and was eliminated.
 
The season was largely built on an amazing May that saw the Bisons go 23-7, their most wins ever in the month and one shy of the 24 Buffalo won in August, 1992. The Bisons had a .303 team batting average in those 30 games and a team ERA of 3.95. The good times kept rolling into June as catcher Dusty Wathan belted three home runs in a 13-1 win June 2 over Toledo -- joining Jeff Manto as the only players to go deep three times in a game downtown. Wathan also broke the franchise record with nine RBIs, capping his big day with an eighth-inning grand slam.
 
Andy Abad (.293-20-85) and Ryan Garko (.303-19-77) shared most valuable player honors and Ernie Young contributed his second straight 20-homer season. Jeremy Guthrie won 12 games to lead the pitching staff and the bullpen was led by setup man Fernando Cabrera (6-1, 1.23) and closer Jake Robbins (23 saves). On May 24, an unusual matchup of former American League MVPs on injury rehab took place when Chicago White Sox star Frank Thomas, playing for the Charlotte Knights, helped his team to a 5-4 win over a Buffalo lineup that included Cleveland's Juan Gonzalez.
 
The Bisons were 48-28 on June 26 when pitcher Kyle Denney, a 10-game winner in 2004, was fallen by a line drive to the head in the first inning of a game against Durham and suffered a fractured skull and ear injuries. The frightening injury sent the club into a tailspin that lasted nearly two months as the Herd saw an 8 1/2-game lead in the division slip away while the Rochester Red Wings pulled even. But the Bisons responded by going 15-4 over their final 19 games, winning seven in a row in one stretch, to pull away and win the division by seven games. The most dramatic victory came on Aug. 24 against Syracuse, when Dusty Wathan's 11th-inning homer gave the Bisons an 11-10 win in a game they once trailed, 7-0.
 
The Bisons looked ready to move to the Governors' Cup finals again after they won both games of the semifinals in Indy, taking Game Two, 6-5, with a two-run rally in the top of the ninth that featured a home run by Jake Gautreau and a squeeze bunt by Brandon Phillips that drove in the winning run. But the offense scored just seven runs in the three home games as Buffalo lost them all. Indianapolis won Game Five, 6-4, as catcher Ronny Paulino connected for a three-run homer in the eighth inning off Robbins.
 
Following the season, Brown took a job as manager of the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese League. He finished his Buffalo career with 238 wins, behind only Brian Graham and Terry Collins among modern-era skippers. Torey Lovullo, a Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer who anchored Buffalo's 1997 and 1998 championship teams, was named manager of the Herd for 2006.

2006 (IL)

Record: 73-68 - .518 (3 - North)
Mgr. - Torey Lovullo

In their first season under Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Lovullo, the Bisons made a late playoff push -- going 18-7 in one stretch that extended into mid-August -- but finished 73-68 and out of the postseason for the first time in three years. It was a season of close calls as the team lost 12 games in extra innings and 24 by one run, the most in both categories since 1990.

Outfielders Ben Francisco (.278-17-59) and Jason Dubois (.275-22-87) shared the team's MVP honors while left-hander Jeremy Sowers (9-1, 1.39) was the most valuable pitcher even though he spent the last three months of the season in Cleveland. From June 12-July 8, Francisco fashioned a 25-game hitting streak -- three shy of Alex Ramirez's 1998 record. Sowers and Jeremy Guthrie each tossed one-hitters, giving Buffalo two of those in a season for the first time in 15 years.

On June 19, third baseman Andy Marte joined Ollie Carnegie, Bill Selby and Carlos Garcia as the only Bisons players to homer in five straight games when he connected in a 6-5 win over Indianapolis. Marte was player of the month for June after hitting 10 home runs and went deep to win the home run derby the next month prior to the Triple-A All-Star Game in Toledo.

The Aug. 8 game against Ottawa featured an amazing comeback as Buffalo scored seven ninth-inning runs to beat the Lynx, 12-9. Francisco's two-run homer tied the game and Dubois' three-run blast won it. The most outlandish day of the season was easily the June 4 doubleheader against Durham, which lasted more than 7 1/2 hours because the Bulls needed 16 innings to win the nightcap, 3-2. A bizarre twist in the 11th inning made national news video as Durham pitcher Jason Childers fired a pitch to Buffalo's Ramon Vazquez that hit a passing seagull on its way to the plate.

2007 (IL)

Record: 75-67 - .528 (3 - North)
Mgr. - Torey Lovullo

In Lovullo's first season, Buffalo never spent a day in first place in the IL North. In his second year, the Bisons went 14-6 in April and were atop the division for 74 days. But injuries and callups hurt the team down the stretch and Buffalo was eliminated from the wild-card hunt by a loss in Rochester on the second-last day of play. It was a season-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of Dunn Tire Park and more than 17,000 came to the Aug. 25 game marking the official ceremonies.

The team's 75-67 record was its best in a non-playoff year since 1990 and Buffalo products like Aaron Laffey, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera made big contributions in Cleveland as the Indians came within a win of making the World Series.

Francisco, who had a 19-game hitting streak, won the IL batting title with a .318 average before spending the last couple weeks of the season in Cleveland. He became Buffalo's first batting champion since Mark Ryal (1990) and the first in the IL since Ted Savage in 1961. First baseman Ryan Mulhern (.290-16-76) was named the team's MVP and Laffey (9-3, 3.08) was named the top pitcher after setting a franchise mark with nine straight wins.

On the final day of the season, Jason Stanford struck out four Rochester batters to claim the franchise's modern-era strikeout mark with 293, three more than Rick Reed. Stanford also became the only Bison to play for the team in seven seasons.

The most memorable game came on May 5, when Buffalo completed the biggest comeback in its history by rallying for nine runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat Pawtucket, 15-14. All appeared lost when the Pawsox took a 14-6 lead in the ninth but five hits, three walks, a hit batter, and three Pawtucket fielding errors later, Buffalo had won the game on Mike Rose's bases-loaded walk that scored Francisco. Infielder Trent Durrington was the winning pitcher after getting the final out in the top of the ninth.

2008 (IL)

Record: 66-77 - .462 (5 - North)
Mgr. - Torey Lovullo

The 2008 season marked the final year of a 14-year affiliation with the Cleveland Indians as the Bisons signed a 2-year player development contract with the New York Mets on September 22, 2008. Buffalo never really threatened with a record under the .500 mark for every day after the seventh game of the season. Buffalo finished in 5th place, their worst finish since returning to the International League in 1998.

The Bisons pitching staff was the team's strength as their 3.84ERA was the 3rd lowest in the league. Unfortunately, the two teams better than them - Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (3.67) and Pawtucket (3.69) - are also in their division. Rescued from the Independent Leagues, 36-year old John Halama led the team with 8 wins, including a pair of complete games at Dunn Tire Park. The staff also struck out 1,017 batters, setting a new Modern Era team record.

Defense (.971 fielding pct.) and hitting (.252 average) hurt they '08 club as both marks finished worst in the IL. Team MVP Todd Linden was a solid addition to the lineup in May, hitting .278 with a team high 14 home runs. He was one of 63 different players to suit up for the Bisons as the team endured 178 transactions.

Side-winding reliever Rich Rundles was the team's lone mid-season All-Star as he went 5-4 with a 2.91ERA in 55 games -4th highest total in team history.

The 2008 season also featured a great moment when outfielder Jason Cooper broke Hall of Famer Tom Prince's record for games played. The fan-favorite Cooper came into a game as a defensive replacement on August 8th for his 401st game. He has now played in 410 games as a Bison.

Unfortunately, the 2008 season may be more remembered for who was lost during the year. Former Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin and long-time supporter Tim Russert both passed away during the summer. Griffin personally invested to bring a team back to Buffalo in 1979 and insisted on the building of then-Pilot Field in downtown Buffalo. Russert was the host of NBC's Meet the Press and a familiar face at Dunn Tire Park because of a video message he recorded for Opening Day for 10 years straight.

2009 (IL)

Record: 56-87 - .392 (6 - North)
Mgr. - Ken Oberkfell

The 2009 season came with great anticipation for Buffalo's baseball fans. The Bisons returned to the field as the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets for the first time since 1965. The team celebrated the change with a new team logo and the adoption of the Mets' popular blue and orange color scheme. The ballpark was renamed Coca-Cola Field with a new naming rights agreement and the stadium's address was changed to "One James D. Griffin Plaza" to honor the late mayor of Buffalo. Former World Series Champion as a player, Ken Oberkfell took over as the team's skipper.

The excitement off the field, however, did not translate to wins on the field. Buffalo struggled to a 2-17 start, a hole that was too big to dig out of. The team hit just .197 in April.

However, the Bisons were very competitive the rest of the season, thanks in large part to team MVP Jesus Feliciano. The veteran outfielder led the International League with 154 hits and finished 5th in the IL with a .311 batting average. IL All-Star Nelson Figueroa was also the league's most consistent pitcher. 'Figgy' went 7-5 with a 2.25ERA that finished 2.2 innings shy of qualifying as the league's best. He delivered a quality start in 15 of his 17 games with the team.

The Bisons new parent, the New York Mets, was hit unbelievable hard by injuries during their season. All-Stars Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado were just a few of the players that went down. That had a direct influence on the Herd who saw players like Fernando Martinez, Omir Santos, Cory Sullivan, Elmer Dessens, Ken Takahashi, Pat Misch and Figueroa leave the team to help out with New York. Southpaw starter Jon Niese won 5 straight games for Buffalo in June/July to earn a promotion only to suffer a horrific season-ending injury in a start with the Mets.

During the season, the Bisons team was bolstered by free agent additions of Mike Lamb (team best 53RBI) and Chip Ambres (9HR, 40RBI) and promotions from Binghamton (AA) like pitchers Adam Bostick (28G, 3.26ERA), Tim McNab (5-4, 4.03ERA) and Tobi Stoner (7-7, 3.96ERA).