A sign hangs on the wall near the Buffalo Bisons’ clubhouse that gives their players some sound advice.
Three sayings in particular catch the eye. “Be a good teammate”, “Don’t be a (jerk)”, and, most notably, “(Screw) you, I’m better!”
That last mantra in particular has carried the Herd since their homestand began last week Tuesday, and it continued on Thursday as they rallied from an 8-0 deficit to defeat the Rochester Red Wings 10-8 at Sahlen Field.
“We had some games early where we got it handed to us and we didn’t come back and we battled but it just didn’t work out – but they never gave up no matter what,” Bisons manager Casey Candaele said. “And so, when you do that, and you have the ability to come back in games like this, that’s crazy.
“It’s 8-0 and you could be totally demoralized as a team and go ‘God that’s awful’ but they don’t do that – they come in and say ‘Let’s go.’ They do not come in and feel sorry for themselves. They’re just like, ‘Alright, we’ve got some time. Let’s do what we have to do.’ They’ve done it quite a few times already and it’s pretty cool to watch. I just sit back and go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this happening again.’”
Jamie Ritchie, who had five RBIs in the contest, agreed.
“I think when you start to get a couple of those wins under your belt, in any situation you start believing that anything’s possible,” Ritchie said. “We’ve got a real good lineup that knows how to get on base and we don’t strike out a lot, so it definitely helps to get in those situations where you know you can put up a lot of runs.
“We’ve just got to continue to put the ball in play and hit it hard. I think we’ve been doing that well and if you do that, good things happen.”
The Herd got the outing off on a sour note when starting pitcher Sean Mellen – who was making his first career start for Buffalo after being called up from New Hampshire (AA) on May 6 – was lifted after two innings after a nasty collision with first baseman Spencer Horwitz. Junior Fernandez replaced him and performed admirably, but when Julian Fernandez came in during the fifth the wheels appeared to be falling off.
Derek Hill gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead on a base hit RBI on a deflection off Fernandez to kickstart the scoring, Travis Blankenhorn hit a two-run home run to right field to increase the lead to 4-0 and Carter Kieboom had an RBI single to get Rochester’s second run before that. Fernandez then came out of the game for Brandon Eisert, who promptly gave up a three-run shot to Franklin Barreto.
A base hit by Francisco Arcia scored Richie Martin to make it 8-0. But that was where the fun stopped for Rochester and good times began for Buffalo.
“No matter what the score is, they’re pretty calm and cool and collected,” Candaele said. “It’s good to watch and it’s something that that you can build on as a team, and when you’re sitting out there and you don’t ever believe that the game is over, it makes a big difference in your mindset and how you go about your business and they’ve been doing a great job.
“Those are things you don’t see in AAA much. People are absorbed in how they’re doing and their own performance and getting to the big leagues. All these guys want to do that. But if you can look at it in the perspective of, you’re still a team and you’re fighting for one goal and that’s being successful and having a good time with your teammates – that makes it that much better. I’ve been in both locker rooms when I played and the one where everybody’s self-absorbed and they’re just wanting to do stuff for themselves is no fun and it’s not a good experience. We try and create an environment here where these dudes are having a good time and they want to come to the park and they want to play, so they’re doing a great job of creating that environment and keeping it going.”
Horwitz drove in a run to get the Bisons on the board and Otto Lopez drove home a run with a single and the bases loaded to kickstart the comeback. Soon afterwards Jamie Ritchie hit a bases-clearing triple to make it 8-5 and open the floodgates.
“Urena’s got a really good sinker, so I was trying to hit it the other way,” Ritchie said. “If it’s a 3-2 pitch you don’t want to get too pull-happy on a guy like that – especially with a lot of sink in that pitch, which makes it easier to hit the ball on the ground.
“I was trying to hit something in the air the other way, and kudos to the guys in front of me in the lineup for being on base.”
Urena then came out of the game for the Red Wings’ bullpen to work and Buffalo feasted off it. Tanner Morris hit an RBI single and Ritchie hit a two-run double to tie the game at eight. Rafael Lantigua then got the Herd in the lead via a sac fly to score Ritchie, and an inning later Ritchie scored again off a wild pitch.
Paul Fry closed the game to seal the win for Buffalo.
Before the start of the Bisons’ homestand on May 9, the Bisons’ batting average ranked 20th in the IL at .237. Over the last week-plus, that number has jumped up to .258 – ninth-best – and Candaele credited his team for sticking to their daily habits to allow themselves to get better in that regard.
“That’s a credit to Matt Hague and the guys that that are out there working with them every day, and they’ve been working on stuff and they have a clear process and clear routines that they’re doing and they stick with them and they’re paying off right now,” Candaele said. “Hopefully we can keep getting better pitching and getting better defensively and ultimately at the end of the year, if we can get all those things together, we’ll have a team that is competing with everybody.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we have the talent and the ability to do so. We’re just going to keep grinding and keep doing that until we can see that happen.”
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