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History Denied

Lucas Duda's home run streak ends at five games

Most of the full house in attendance at Coca Cola Field this past Saturday one could be counted as casual fans. The type of patron who packs the kids in the car, heads to the ballpark, and revels in the cotton candy, the mascots, the things going on in the park—oh yeah, and a baseball game, too. Throw in the Buffalo Philharmonic and an awesome fireworks show and small wonder that this game becomes the big event of the season.

So don’t be too surprised if a majority of the fans didn’t know that they had a shot at witnessing history.

Lucas Duda, the tall, beefy Mets outfield prospect, just recently called up to AAA from the Binghamton Mets, had his opportunity to rewrite the Bisons history book.

Never before in team history, and that goes back to 1879, had a Bisons hitter hit a home run in six straight games.

Four players had gotten to five, and it is an esteemed and recognizable list. Buffalo icon Ollie Carnegie did it in 1938. In the modern era, Carlos Garcia (1992), Bill Selby (1998), and Andy Marte (2006) notched this accomplishment. And on Friday, Duda belted a home run in his fifth game to tie the record, joining this list of notables.

And so there stood Duda, the unlikeliest of contestants, in the lineup this past weekend with a chance to make his own mark. Standing in the way? The woeful Rochester Red Wings, who have settled in the basement in the IL North. What’s more, they were sending a pitcher named Glen Perkins to the mound, with a record of 1-8 and an ERA of 8.25. The planets were aligning.

What happened in that game? Of course the totally unexpected. Both teams pitch five-hit gems, Rochester won 1-0, walking in their only run on a hit by pitch. Duda flied out, grounded out, and struck out on an ugly swing, and never got a chance for a fourth at bat.

Game over. History denied.

Duda has had his issues and challenges while making his way up the ladder in the Mets organization. He was a seventh-round draft pick in 2007, and last year spent the bulk of his time in Binghamton, where he appeared in 110 games, batting .281 and hitting nine home runs.

So why all the power, all of a sudden, here in Buffalo?

“Well, the home runs were sort of an accident,” Duda says. “I’m just trying to get a swing at the ball, and it just worked out.”

In Duda’s short time at the AAA level, he is already seeing that the pitching compared to AA is vastly different. “Here guys can throw off-speed strikes anytime they want, it’s a lot sharper, it’s better, there is more depth,” he says. “The guys have more experience. I’m just trying to put a good swing on it and see what happens.”

For manager Ken Oberkfell, Duda’s emergence as a power hitter is an unexpected turn of events. The Bisons have suffered huge losses in their lineup. Mike Hessman was sidelined with a hand injury. Jason Pridie was on the disabled list for quite a while, and returned for all of one game this past week, only to suffer a similar injury when he tried to beat out a throw.

The injuries and callups to New York have been difficult, but not devastating, as Oberkfell continues to juggle his roster. As the team heads to the All Star break, they are very much in the mix for a shot at the playoffs.

Oberkfell was mindful of Dudas’ record-breaking attempt at Saturday’s game, lamenting the fact that his team just could not make it happen to give him the shot. “We really didn’t have much a chance,” Oberkfell says. “We never really put any threats together. It was a good game, we just couldn’t get that run.”

Throughout the ninth inning, Oberkfell had it in the back of his mind that Duda could get one more chance if the team could just get some runners on base. “I was hoping. It would have been nice. It would have been pretty special. I just wasn’t looking for that double play from Fernando [Martinez]. We had the right guys up. We had Jacobs, Pascucci, Martinez, Cervenak, then Duda. Give their guys credit. They got it done.”

It was Jacobs who got the leadoff hit, then Pascucci struck out. Martinez then hit into a clean double play, leaving Duda in the hole.

Despite that loss, the Bisons put together a pretty impressive homestand last week here in Buffalo, sweeping both games from Syracuse, a team that has pretty much had their way with the Herd these past two years. Then they took three of four against Rochester. Oberkfell reports that there is a chance Mike Hessman might return to Buffalo after the All Star break. He is at the Mets training facility in Florida rehabbing his injured hand and trying to stay in shape.

If Hessman returns, and the team can avoid the callup bug, looks like there will be pennant-chasing baseball in Buffalo come August, something Bisons fans have not seen for a long time.

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