(bisons.com)-The Buffalo Bisons had the Toledo Mud Hens sweating it out.
Down by two in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon at Coca-Cola Field, where 9,102 were in attendance, the Herd made a furious rally on closer Jose Valverde. The comeback seemingly featured everything but a walk-off, as Bisons came up just short, losing, 7-6, giving Toledo a 3-1 series win.
Anthony Gose led off the ninth with a single and was quickly on third on Kevin Pillar's double the ensuing at-bat. A Munenori Kawasaki walk loaded the bases for slugger Mauro Gomez, who drove in Gose with a single, leaving Buffalo down just one with no outs.
With Jim Negrych, an All-Star who has hit over.300 all season and the man with the only two walk-off hits for the Bisons this year, Andy LaRoche, manager Marty Brown felt at the least, extra innings were in the cards.
A strikeout by the clean-up hitter, Negrych, and LaRoche grounding into a double play gave Valverde the adventurous save, but Brown was pleased with his team's valiant push. In fact, he'd like to see more of it in the Bisons' next series, a four-game set with the Columbus Clippers at Coca-Cola Field.
"It was a grind getting there," Brown said. "... We gave them a run. Hopefully that's something to build on for (Monday) and this new series with Columbus and offensively we can kind of take that game there and run it into the next day. I really liked what I saw in that last inning."
Before the apex of the game's action in the final inning, Chien-Ming Wang had the epitome of an up-and-down day in his third start for the Herd.
The righty, who was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays June 9 and made five starts for them, struck out the side in the first.
Avisail Garcia and Danny Worth led the game off with a single and double, respectively, placing them on second and third. Nick Castellanos plated them when Jim Negrych fielded a grounder at third and his subsequent throw to first ended up in right field for an error, putting the score at 2-0 after the initial top-half.
From that point, Wang retired 10 of the next 12 Mud Hens heading into the fifth, recording another punch out and inducing a tailor-made double play groundout with his primary pitch, the sinkerball, in the fourth.
To aid the 2006 Cy Young Award runner-up with the New York Yankees' strong middle part, Ryan Goins hit a fourth-inning three-run homer to give the Herd a 4-2 lead. With one out, the infielder jumped on the first pitch he saw, sending his fourth of the year into the Bully Hill deck in right field. Wang's lead was short-lived, however, as he was unable to get out of the next frame.
Bryan Holaday, who had three hits, lifted a 1-0 offering from Wang over the left-field wall to leadoff an inning which all Mud Hens batted. Four more hits and an error followed, leading four runs and a lost Buffalo lead.
Wang didn't record an out until Castellanos, the sixth hitter of the inning, had an RBI fielder's choice to score the final run of the frame. A Danny Dorn single the next at-bat ended the day for Wang, who allowed six runs, four earned, on nine hits, no walks and striking out four on 67 pitches, 46 for strikes, over 4 1/3 innings.
"Not very typical," Brown said of Wang. "He's really show he can get us deeper into games. He kind of lost command up in the zone of his sinker and he was behind in the count a little bit and they took advantage of it. Third time through the order, they had a chance to see him. He just didn't really make the adjustments that he needed to make."
Wang's success thrives on letting the defense make plays behind him, specifically on ground balls in the infield. Brown said his sinker that induces those grounders got away from him a little bit in the four-run frame.
"His sinker in that (fifth) inning, he just didn't have a lot of sink to it. There was some run, but not a lot of finish. Instead of getting ground balls, basically he was giving up line drives."
Unlike his first couple starts for Buffalo, Wang's secondary pitches were working well, however. Brown felt the starter's curve ball was his best pitch today.
Catcher Sean Ochinko also noted how much of a positive it was for Wang to mix his pitches up effectively and that he just ran into an offense swinging the bats well. The Mud Hens had 17 hits in Saturday night's win and 13 more Sunday.
"He was throwing the ball good all game up until the fifth and they put some swings on some good pitches," Ochinko said. "Actually, I thought today, more than his other starts, that he was mixing his pitches really well. Throwing breaking balls for strikes, his change-up was good, his fastball was his normal self.
"That's baseball. Sometimes you go out there and weird things happen and guys put together some good swings on good pitches. He'll bounce back just fine."
On top of his RBI single in the ninth, Gomez, who entered tied for the International League lead in home runs with 26, took a step away from his normal game and played small ball to produce.
He got one of Toldeo's first-inning runs back in the bottom of the first with an RBI groundout to short and added another RBI in the fifth on a groundout to second to cut the deficit to 6-5. The first baseman finished 2 for 5 with a run scored.
Kevin Pillar was also a bright spot on an offense that registered nine hits. In addition to his ninth-inning double, he led off the Bisons' first with a two-bagger and added a single in fifth. The leadoff batter scored a run and is now hitting .349.
In only 27 games at Triple-A, Pillar has 12 doubles and 16 RBIs and has become one of the most dangerous hitters in the lineup.
"You feel good with (Pillar) coming up in any situation," Brown said of Pillar. "He hasn't disappointed, he's made a great first impression. He's just a student of the game and I think his ability, I think he's going to find out how good he can be."
The Herd will begin its series against the Clippers Monday at 7:05 p.m. and it will conclude Thursday, that first pitch set for 1:05 p.m.