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Down the Stretch They Come!

Bisons and three teams in an epic race to the finish for playoff berths

It’s been a while since the Buffalo Bisons were enmeshed in a true pennant chase.

But here, it is, late August, and the team is very much in the thick of things, thanks to a stunning reversal of fortune. After limping into the All Star break in mid July the team then promptly got swept in a four game series at Pawtucket. In a season of peaks and valleys, this was the low point for the Herd.

Then the team got hot.

In fact, the Bisons are 19-8 since that July sweep (as of this past Tuesday), and that has placed them within striking distance of a playoff berth, if not the division title, then the one wild card slot available.

If the Bisons can keep that pace, they may be able to claim first or second place and enter the Governors Cup playoffs for the first time since 2005. It has been an eight year playoff drought at Coca Cola Field, including the four forgettable seasons that the team was affiliated with the New York Mets.

Standing in the way are the Syracuse Chiefs, Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings. All four teams in the chase spot winning records in what is by far the International League’s toughest division this season. Two teams will make it and will then square off in a best of five series in the first round. The other two teams will go home. Durham and Columbus have all but clinched the other two division titles and those two teams will also meet up in the first round.

Buffalo Bisons Manager Gary Allenson seems to particularly be enjoying the tension and drama that continues to unfold by the day, as the team plays its games and keeps a keen eye on the standings and out of town scoreboard. While knowing that minor league teams are in constant flux due to the demands of the parent club, this season has been like no other for the Bisons, with almost 200 player transactions since Opening Day, and 70 different individuals have worn the Bisons uniform in 2014. The newest player, infielder Matt Hague, was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates earlier this week, and once inserted into the lineup, he will be player #71.

“These guys are all professionals, many of them have been in these sort of chases before while others haven’t. Just because it’s August it doesn’t mean we’re approaching these games any differently than if it were April,” said Allenson as the calendar turned to August.

Want drama? Look no farther than just last week, when the Bisons played a four game set against Norfolk here in Buffalo. The team’s roster was augmented with the addition of Blue Jays superstar Edwin Encarnacion, who was down here on a rehabilitation assignment.

It didn’t take long for Encarnacion to make a statement. After his first at bat, where he just missed getting a chunk of the ball and harmlessly popped out, he stepped into the batters box two innings later with the bases loaded. On the first pitch he faced, he launched a mammoth home run deep to left center. It was the first grand slam by the Bisons since 2012. The team won 7-5.

The following night? One of the more exasperating losses of the year. Going into the 9th inning with a 2-0 lead, the bullpen struggled, yet managed to get to two outs, leading by a run and runners at 2nd and 3rd. Reliever Steve Delabar then attempted to intentionally walk the next batter to load the bases. What should have been a routine four throws turned into disaster, as he unleashed a wild pitch to allow the tying run to score. Another wild pitch sent the go ahead runner home. The Bisons lost a precious game. “I actually had one of those happen to us last year at double A”, said Allenson, as he spoke about the intentional walk.

Games to watch...this weekend’s four game set at home against Pawtucket, who the Bisons are chasing for the wild card, looms huge. But it may go right to the final weekend, where the team finishes up with two at Rochester, followed by two at Syracuse. The regular season concludes on Labor Day. “Everyone’s kind of feeling it in the clubhouse,” said Kevin Pillar, who has been a mainstay during the team’s hot streak. “The guys are really bonding together. Hopefully we’ll get it done.”

September baseball at Coca Cola Field...Fingers crossed.

Around the Bases

(Last homestand promotions edition)

■ Friday: the final Fridaynightbash of the season with postgame fireworks

■ Saturday: Chicken Wing bobblehead, for the first 3000 lucky fans through the gate. Will Celery finally come through in the WCC Race and spoil Chicken Wing’s special night?

■ Tuesday: Fan Appreciation Day with giveaways throughout the game and a spectacular fireworks show following (special start time 6:05pm)

■ Best ticket bargain ever: the “Fan Appreciation 4 Pack”: four tickets to Saturday’s game, four tickets to Tuesday’s game, $20 in Bisons bucks, and a $20 gift card to 716 Food and Sport at HarborCenter. All for $76.

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