(bisons.com)-Mike Nickeas's last home run came exactly one year ago, on August 3, 2012 against Syracuse.
Nickeas had never hit a walk off home run in his entire life.
That changed with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning as the catcher blasted a home run over the left field wall to give the Bisons a 5-3 victory over Pawtucket and close the gap in the Il North Division to 0.5 games with 31 to go.
"I'm just trying to put a good at-bat together," Nickeas said of his ninth-inning heroics. "I faced (Jose Contreras) when I was the Phillies and the Mets. He's always given me fits...but I was just trying to hit something up the middle and he kind of left one up and I turned on it."
The Herd catcher was batting .161 with just eight RBI's on the season before that at-bat.
The whole team knew Nickeas had been struggling on offense this season, but the thing about the 2013 Bisons is they never give up on each other or in an at-bat.
Nickeas was hounded by his Herd teammates when he reached home plate and the crowd roared for its team's celebration.
"There's something about this team," Nickeas said. "Guys are just grinding at-bats. We only had three hits for six or seven innings, so we're pulling it all together."
The team knows how important the final stretch of the season is and they showed it tonight. Buffalo plays all 31 of their remaining games against IL North Division opponents.
To end the first game of a four-game series against the first-place team in the division was just the beginning of what the Herd hopes is a big playoff push.
Ricardo Nanita hit a line drive double in the gap between center and right with two outs in the ninth to tie Pawtucket for the second time in the game. Kevin Pillar hung in during a tough at-bat to draw a walk from Contreras to get the first base runner on in the inning.
"Nanita is a seasoned guy," said Bisons manager Marty Brown. "He hasn't been in there in a long time and I've seen this the last two years in Vegas. He's got an uncanny way of coming up in big spots and putting the bat on the ball. I didn't expect anything less than (Pillar) scoring on that ball and it was nice to see (Nickeas) come up with a big hit."
Brown said Nickeas has worked extremely hard on his hitting all season. The skipper did not hesitate to keep his catcher in the game in the ninth even though his numbers may have suggested otherwise.
"Lately, he has been swinging the bat better so I went ahead and stayed with him and he got a big hit," Brown said. "He has worked extremely hard on (his hitting) for a long time... I felt good about him being up there, I really did."
Pawtucket had runners on first and third with one out as the Bisons brought John Stilson in to replace Mickey Storey in the top of the ninth.
Storey allowed just one hit in the ninth, but an error by Clint Robinson in the first at-bat put runners on the corners.
Alberto Rosario hit a ground ball to second base to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
The Herd threatened to tie the game with one out in the sixth with runners on first and second and came through in the clutch.
Buffalo native Jim Negrych walked to start the inning and Mauro Gomez hit a sharp grounder off of Red Sox starter Charlie Haeger's foot to reach safely at first.
First baseman Clint Robinson got his fourth hit of the season to load the bases for third baseman Andy LaRoche. After a mound visit by Pawtucket, Haeger, a knuckleball pitcher, threw a wild pitch that allowed Negrych to score from third and tie the game at two.
With two outs and runners on second and third, Pillar pinch-hit for shortstop Ryan Goins and grounded out to second base, but not before the Herd evened the score.
The Bisons had just one hit before their rally in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Brown decided to pinch hit Luis Jimenez for home run leader Mauro Gomez with two outs in the eighth. Jimenez struck out to end the inning.
After the game, Brown said Gomez had a strain in his side that he has had in the past. It was not an intentional decision. Brown was concerned with how long the injury may leave Gomez out of the lineup, but said the team will monitor it over the next few days.
Herd starter Thad Weber pitched his third-straight strong outing as the right-hander finished with seven strikeouts, allowing eight hits, two runs (one earned) and just one walk in seven innings.
Weber had four strikeouts through three innings, but got into some trouble in the fourth inning.
Pawtucket had runners on first and third with one out, when Jeremy Hazelbaker hit a ball into the gap between center and right, scoring two runs, but was thrown out trying for third base by Mike McCoy in right. The Red Sox went into the bottom of the fourth with a 2-1 lead.
Weber settled down in the fifth and sixth innings, getting a groundout, flyout and strikeout in both frames.
Gomez hit an opposite field single into right field, scoring Mike McCoy to give the Herd an early 1-0 lead over Pawtucket.