It was the same old story for the Herd on Thursday afternoon. For most of the game, the Bisons defensive effort was marked by stellar pitching and fundamental fielding. But all it took was one big inning by the opponent to ruin the Herd's chances at victory.
After scoring four 4th-inning runs in a victory over the Herd on Wednesday night, Lehigh Valley was at it again Thursday afternoon - plating four in the 2nd, off Bisons starter Zack Wheeler. The outburst was all the IronPigs would need, and Lehigh Valley went on to notch a 5-2 victory over the Herd in the matinee affair. With the win, Lehigh Valley takes a 2-1 lead in the four-game set, which concludes on Friday night.
After falling behind early on Thursday, the Herd had little margin for error. For a rally to be possible, the Bisons would need to take advantage of opportunities as the game went on. But it didn't happen - Buffalo went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving seven men on base. When that's the case, it's hard to get ahead in the game - much less attempt a multi-run comeback.
"We're not hitting with guys in scoring position," Bisons manager Wally Backman said. "That's for sure. (We had) enough hits (7) to usually win a ballgame. You've just got to put them together in the right spots."
The big 2nd inning by Lehigh Valley started quickly yet innocuously, with Jake Fox dribbling a grounder to the first base side that rolled just through a gap between the foul line and Bisons 1B Adam Loewen. After Wheeler struck out Jason Pridie, Derrick Mitchell found a gap in center field to put runners on the corners with one out.
From there, the IronPigs would continue to hit Wheeler - with two consecutive singles that scored a pair of runs. Even the pitcher got in on the action, as Lehigh Valley starter Tom Cochran laid down a near-perfect sacrifice bunt that advanced runners to second and third. Next up was Cesar Hernandez, who put the finishing touches on the big inning with a two-RBI single on a blooper that dropped in shallow left field - just over the outstretched glove of Herd shortstop Josh Rodriguez.
The outburst gave Lehigh Valley a commanding 4-0 lead, which was more than enough for the victory on the afternoon.
Buffalo tried to chip into the lead as the game went on, but never generated enough momentum to make the game particularly close. With the IronPigs holding a 5-0 lead in the 5th, the Bisons finally got on the board courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Lucas May that scored Brad Emaus - who had opened the inning with a leadoff double. The Herd would tack on another the next inning with the same formula - Fred Lewis led off with a double, and Lucas Duda sent him home on a sac fly later on.
But despite the offensive life that the Bisons showed throughout the afternoon, it wasn't enough to overcome the 2nd-inning disappointment. Buffalo's last promising opportunity came in the 8th, when the tying run came to the plate with two men on and two outs. With a chance to pull the Herd even with one swing of the bat, Josh Satin could not produce - grounding to SS Andres Blanco, who made the easy play to second to retire the side.
"We had some opportunities to score some runs," Backman said. "And we didn't do it."
As for Wheeler, the highly touted Mets prospect who took the mound for his third Triple-A start, it was a mixed bag. The back-breaking 2nd inning was certainly hard to overcome, but Wheeler made the best of it by retiring eight of the final ten batters he faced.
Backman was happy with much of Wheeler's game on Thursday, but pointed out that the 22-year old struggled with his control - which led to his falling behind early in counts. Consequently, hitters were able to stay aggressive and take advantage.
"His velocity was there," Backman said. "Everything was there. He just didn't have good command today, and good command is key. Those guys were swinging early, and they hurt him (by) swinging early in the count."
Bisons Notes: Wheeler faced Lehigh Valley RF Jason Pridie three times and got the best of him, striking him out every time...Zach Lutz and Brad Emaus recorded multi-hit games for the Herd. Emaus notched a pair of doubles...The Bisons bullpen finished the game strong, with Justin Hampson and Garrett Olson combining to pitch four innings of two-hit, no-run ball.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.