Buffalo Bisons pitcher-TJ ZEUCH swarmed after no-hitter. Photo courtesy Rochester Red Wings
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TJ ZEUCH’s NO HITTER – WHY IT MATTERS By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell

Bisons hurler makes history in Rochester

 

On August 21, 1909, Buffalo Bisons pitcher Charles “Rube” Kissinger no hit the Rochester Bronchos for a 5-0 win in Buffalo (Rochester baseball went through a whole lot of nickname iterations back then before settling on Red Wings).

That’s 110 years, almost to the day. The day that Toronto Blue Jays prospect and Buffalo Bisons starting pitcher TJ Zeuch went to Rochester, and mowed down 27 Red Wings batters, to secure a complete game no-hitter and cement his own standing in Buffalo Bisons history.

How big was this? “Huge, no doubt about it” said Bisons play by play voice Pat Malacaro, who got the call for what was arguably the biggest moment in his broadcasting career.

Consider this – since Rochester’s Frontier Field opened in 1996, there had been only one no-hitter recorded in the entire ballpark’s history, this, over the course of thousands of games.

For the Buffalo Bisons, only one no hitter was accomplished in the Modern Era, which goes back to the return of baseball to Buffalo in 1979. That happened on June 20, 1997 here in Buffalo, against the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Colon’s no hitter was a gem, witnessed by many on a splendid Friday night with the team’s popular Fridaynightbash and fireworks extravaganza in full swing at the downtown ballpark. Colon faced 28 batters that night, surrendering but one walk as he took his rightful place in Buffalo Bisons lore. Colon would go on to a long and brilliant career in the Major Leagues.

Zeuch’s no hitter this past Monday went 29 batters. He allowed one walk and one hit by pitch. Those were the only two batters that reached based for Rochester for the entire game. For stat geeks, Zeuch threw 114 pitches and 73 went for strikes. Incredibly, Zeuch only recorded three strikeouts in the game. “The sinker was working for me,” said Zeuch after the game.

Back to the no hitter history roster… prior to Colon’s game, the last Bison to record a no hitter, a perfect game no less, was Dick Marlowe on August 15, 1952 in a 2-0 win against Baltimore, then a AAA affiliate.

Buffalo has been at the losing end of a no hitter but once in the Modern Era. On August 10, 2003, Bronson Arroyo pitched a perfect game against the Bisons for the Pawtucket Red Sox at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, retiring all 27 Buffalo batters that day.

Rochester, and the backdrop of Frontier Field, was the ideal setting for this historic achievement, with a good scattering of Bisons fans in the stands making the one hour trip, and the two teams locked into a pennant chase for the International League’s northern division crown and a berth on the Governor’s Cup playoffs. “I truly believe that whichever of these two teams can dominate these games (The Bisons and Red Wings are in the midst of an 8 game home and home set) will win this division. Scranton is reeling right now and the title is there for the taking. Who will end up on top. ..It will be interesting.” said Malacaro.

Buffalo and Rochester have one of the most storied rivalries on all of minor league baseball, and Monday’s game just added another log to the fire of that rivalry. Scroll through the pages of baseball history, and there are large stories of these two teams and their fan bases, which downright hated each other in the 30s and 40s and even before that. Bisons Hall of Famer Luke Easter, remembered for his mammoth 500 foot plus home run which cleared the outfield street outside Offerman Stadium, also wore a Rochester Red Wings uniform.

The rivalry today is far more civil, with two great baseball programs lending each other support in terms of growing the game and marketing cross support,

For many in the stands this past Monday, fans of both teams had a growing sense of the history unfolding as the late innings were marked off. “The Rochester fans were great,” said Malacaro. “People were on their feet giving TJ and the Bisons a warm ovation. Mind you, these games count heavy in the standings, but real fans have a keen sense of what they just saw.”

When one thinks of no hitters, usually a stand out play in the field comes to mind. That one moment where some player makes the outstanding defensive play to keep the no hitter intact.

Such was the case on Monday, and it happened in the 9th inning, with one out and the Bisons just two outs from history. Rochester’s Ian Miller drove a screamer into center field which had all the makings of a base hit.

Not so fast. Or..so fast. Bisons center fielder Jonathan Davis tore for the ball, a make or break play that if missed, would have the ball rolling all the way to the wall. Davis made the catch, a highlight reel play which made it to ESPN’s Sportscenter the next day.

Fittingly, the final out was a tapper right to Zeuch, who calmly tossed the ball to first base. His teammates mobbed him, and the celebration was on.

In the scheme of things, this is one game. A win is a win, but it is back to work the next day. “The guys celebrated, it was quite the clubhouse scene, but a game like this, no matter how big this is, won’t have a spillover effect on the remainder of the season. By the next day the team will be focused on the next game and what needs to be done,” said Malacaro.

Nonetheless, the importance of this achievement can not be understated. The Buffalo and Toronto affiliation, now in its 7th year, has been a marketing and public relations success for both teams, and seen as a tremendous fit as far as affiliation agreements go. But on the field, not so much, as the team has stumbled through forgettable seasons and Buffalo fans had to suffer through bleeding eyeballs as they watched former manager Gary Allenson bumble his way through Buffalo.

For the Bisons, it is a crucial make or break time for a chance at the playoffs. The team has not been in the postseason since 2005, the longest such drought in the International League.

The only path to the playoffs is by winning the division, as the wild card berth is all but out of reach. Going into Thursday, the Bisons are 2 games behind the leading Scranton Wilkes Barre Railriders, who have had a horrific month.

So this sets up the final week… the Bisons are home for four games against Rochester, who have their own designs on the division title. Then the team heads to Moosic, Pennsylvania, for a four game set with Scranton to end the regular season. Games that in all possibility will seal the division crown.

Road trip, anyone?

TARO SEZ (baseball edition)…

Penalty and game misconduct to the baseball “fans” in attendance who walked out of Frontier Field early. By the 7th inning stretch the game was only one and a half hours old, the home team was only down 1-0 in a pennant chase setting, and the visiting pitcher was nine outs away from a rare achievement. Traffic and postgame getaways in downtown Rochester are always a piece of cake, so beating other cars out of the parking lot is not an excuse. What possibly could have been so pressing at home that one would have to leave? Did these “fans” even keep their stubs?

End of rant. See you at Sabres training camp. Love, Taro.

 

 

 

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