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Buffalo Bisons – One Memorable Homestand

Pitching gems and pitching meltdowns. A Cuban who throws gas. Buckets and buckets of offense and plenty of scoring. Dramatic comeback victories. One epic loss when the visitors plated 20 runs.

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The Buffalo Bisons have the day off this Wednesday, after concluding an incredibly entertaining eight game homestand at Coca Cola Field. Once the dust settled, the team found itself with a 6-2 record on the eight games played. And (gasp), they hit the road holding first place in the International League north division.

The Bisons faced the Durham Bulls and the Louisville Bats for a four game set each. The Bulls are the top farm team of the Tampa Bay Rays, and are perennial contenders in the league. The Bats have had a rough start this year, but came to town with their phenom Cuban prospect, Aroldis Chapman, scheduled to pitch against the Herd.

The first two games with Durham were marathons, both going well over three hours in length. The teams split the two games, with Mike Hessman one of the heroes on the win, hitting two home runs.

But then came the R.A. Dickey show.

In the third game of the series, knuckleballer Dickey surrendered a hit to the first Durham batter, Fernando Perez. Dickey then proceeded to retire the next 27 batters he faced, the equivalent of a perfect game. Buffalo won that game 4-0, then the following night it was another offensive slugfest, with Mike Hessman hitting a grand slam home run in Buffalo’s winning effort, the first such feat by the Bisons in the Mets era, and the first one hit at Coca Cola Field since 2007.

Louisville’s first game of the series was another great pitcher’s duel, and the Bisons managed to squeak out a 1-0 win, thanks to Mike Jacob’s RBI triple in the third inning. Pitcher Bobby Livingston threw a three hit gem through eight innings, and Elmer Dessens pitched the ninth to get the save.

Aroldis Chapman has created quite a buzz since leaving his native Cuba to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds. The guy throws heat. Big time. And fans in the stands gasped in awe as Chapman’s fastball hit the 100 MPH mark. Four times in fact. Chapman earned the win in this game despite a shaky fourth inning where he surrendered five runs and the Bisons made it close. But this was not a good night for the pitching staff, as five pitchers combined to surrender 20 runs on 24 hits. Final score 20-7 Louisville.

Nonetheless, Manager Ken Oberkfell was in particularly good spirits throughout the week, especially the final game, a 5-4 come from behind win to put an exclamation point on this homestand, happening on his birthday, no less. “My teams never lose on my birthday,” Oberkfell quipped. These dramatics came just two days after the Bisons and Bats took the second game of the set to an extra 10th inning, with Louisville scoring twice in the top of the frame, and Buffalo getting four in the bottom, courtesy of Chris Carter’s two run blast, which sparked a massive Bisons celebration at home plate. “Those kind of exciting moments inspire so much confidence in a team,” said Mike Hessman.

Oberkfell was unapologetic about his team’s pitching, which has run the gamut from incredible and awe inspiring to downright dreadful, saying they will get it right. “These guys are human, they’re bound to have an off night. The good news is we have the power and the offense at the plate to make things happen and we showed that all week long.”

There is still a lot of baseball left to be played, but stars like R.A. Dickey and Mike Hessman are already making a mark on the 2010 Bisons, and it is having an effect on the entire team. “These guys all support each other, we like each other, and these guys are pushing all of us to do better and play better. Right now it’s fun coming down to the ballpark,” said pitcher Adam Pettyjohn.

The Bisons hit the road for four in Indianapolis and four in Louisville, and return to Coca Cola Field a week from Friday. For now, Buffalo is in first place, a neighborhood not seen in a long long time. How sweet it is!