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It's Thank You Cito Night

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays will be honoring retiring manager Cito Gaston before tonight's home finale against the Yankees and there's a large blue carpet on the field between the mound and second base with Gaston's No. 43 on it and chairs set up for the dignitaries on hand. They include Joe Carter, George Bell, Devon White and Pat Hentgen.

It's called Thank You Cito Night. The script message "Thank You Cito" is on the jumbotron, the outfield wall and the electronic marquee outside Rogers Centre. Gaston, in fact, penned a front-page thank you to the fans in today's Toronto Star. 

Gaston had a 30-minute press conference prior to the game to reflect on his career and his accomplishments here. After this weekend's series in Minnesota, the 66-year-old is retiring to become a consultant for the Blue Jays.

Gaston took over as interim manager in 1989 and had no intention of staying in the job.  He left in 1997 (winning two World Series along the way) and came back for two years as hitting coach (2000-01) and three more as manager (2008-10).

"I'm cool. I'm OK. This is OK," a smiling Gaston said. "It's not like I'm dead. It's just that I'm going on to do something else."

Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "He's someone I've looked up to and someone who's done it right for a long time."

Speaking of Girardi, remember when he said last night he might rest some of his infielders today on the turf here? No dice. They all told him they were playing. So it's Teixeira, Cano, Jeter and A-Rod in the lineup. Only Curtis Granderson has a night off.

"We're playing to win this division," Girardi said. "We'll be smart about it but we're playing to win it.  I talked to them and they feel good. When you're trying to win a division, you want those guys in the lineup. ... These guys know their bodies better than I do and I'll listen to them."

Girardi said Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett will start the first two games this weekend in Boston with Sunday's starter TBA and a piecemeal bullpen game possible. Phil Hughes will pitch an inning or two in relief, probably Saturday, but CC Sabathia will not and will simply have to go on longer-than-normal rest into his first playoff start on Wednesday.

---Mike Harrington

Yanks' dilemma: Rest for the playoffs or push ahead for division and homefield advantage?

YanksTORONTO -- So the champagne was flying in the visitors' clubhouse (left) late Tuesday night in Rogers Centre after the New York Yankees clinched a playoff berth with their 6-1 win over the Blue Jays but what have the Bronx Bombers really won? Nothing yet. I was surprised by the big party from a team I figured would have had more of a been-there/done-that attitude. Win your division and celebrate, sure. But let loose when you're still a half-game out in the division? You're not the Tampa Bay Rays.

But manager Joe Girardi has been talking out of both sides of his mouth all month and the players seem confused as ever. By his bizarre bullpen choices, Girardi looked to be coasting home. Then the Red Sox got hot, the Yankees were stumbling, Phil Hughes was thrust back into the rotation and CC Sabathia pitched Tuesday when he could have waited until Friday and been on his normal turn for Game One of the division series.

Now the Yankees have no idea how Sabathia will be pitching on seven or eight days rest. And do they keep the veterans going to win the division? Girardi made it clear that all of his infielders are candidates to sit out tonight, allowing them to stay off the hard turf here for a night and get an extra day off Thursday in Boston.

"I want to play," said first baseman Mark Teixeira. "I want to win this division. Some of it is not in our hands. Joe is going to make the decisions he needs to make. At the same time, we go out every single night trying to win. The last four games, that's what we're going to try to do."

"I always want to play," added Derek Jeter. "But I don't know what the plans are."

Jeter was then asked if he would benefit from a couple days off. His answer was quick.

"We got Thursday off, don't we? There you go."

Girardi said after the game Andy Pettitte won't pitch tonight (Javier Vazquez will). So once and for all, does he want to win the division or not? 

"I'll talk to the guys tomorrow and see how they feel," Girardi said. "There's got to be some tired bodies out there. I gotta make sure our guys are strong. That's the first thing. I still want our division. I still want homefield advantage. I can see there's some tired bodies. ... It's something I've got to think about tonight."

---Mike Harrington


(AP Photo: From left, Francisco Cervelli, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames whoop it up in the Yankees' clubhouse.) 

Live from Toronto: Yankee Doodles

TORONTO -- Is this the night the Yankees can exhale just a little more? We'll see. One more win -- or a Boston loss in Chicago -- will clinch a playoff berth for the Bronx Bombers as they get set for game two against the Blue Jays. Good thing we have a roof on Rogers Centre. It's pouring outside and there's no way we'd be playing right now.

Ace CC Sabathia (20-7) will be pitching for the Yankees against Toronto rookie Kyle Drabek. The Yankees would love to be setting up their postseason rotation but they simply can't until they're sure they're in. So they've moving forward with Sabathia rather than holding him back until Friday. And manager Joe Girardi simply won't get drawn into talks of playoff rotations.

"It's hard not to think about and that's the bottom line," Girardi admitted before the game. "You set a goal to win the division and to get into the playoffs and we're still not there ... We're not talking about it. We've got to get in first. That's our whole focus. It's the right thing for us to do."

Pressed on the fact that the odds are virtually certain the Yankees will get in, Girardi didn't waver.

"That's why they're odds. Odds aren't  guarantees," Girardi said. "You've still got to do it. That's why they have to play. I'm not going to waste my time preparing for something that hasn't happened yet."

Drabek, who is 0-2, 4.91 in his first two starts since being called up from Double-A, is the son of former big-leaguer Doug Drabek. The elder Drabek pitched for the Yankees from 1984-86 becoming a star of the Pittsburgh Pirates three straight division championship teams from 1990-92. Girardi recalled how Doug Drabek always threw a first-pitch curveball in every start and how he couldn't get a hit off the Pittsburgh ace. He was right; Girardi was 2 for 23 in his career against Doug Drabek.

Longtime former Blue Jays slugger George Bell is here to be part of Thank You Cito Night tomorrow, when the Blue Jays will be honoring retiring manager Cito Gaston prior to his final home game. Bell will throw the ceremonial first pitch tonight and it will be caught by Toronto slugger Jose Bautista, whose 52 home runs this year have broken the Toronto record of 47 set by Bell in 1987.

---Mike Harrington

Girardi panicking again, going back to CC

TORONTO -- I'll be in the house covering tonight's Yankees-Blue Jays game in the Rogers Centre and I'm shaking my head at how Joe Girardi is handling things. Girardi is starting CC Sabathia tonight and risking his entire playoff rotation at a time when the Yankees' pitching is basically CC, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and prayers.

The Bombers' magic number to clinch a berth is one. To miss it, they'd have to go 0-5 and have the Red Sox go 6-0. That's not going to happen. Sabathia was going to pitch Friday in Boston to be lined up for the opener of the division series but Girardi apparently panicked again after A.J. Burnett blew up last night and is going back to his ace.

The Yanks are just 11-14 in September and headed for their first losing record in the month since 2000. Girardi gets lots of blame. He took the pedal away from the metal and seemed to just be worried about getting healthy rather than winning the AL East and now his team is in a funk. Bad decision.

I would have kept Sabathia on Friday. What do the Yankees do now? Give him an inning or two in relief over the weekend? You don't want him starting Game One after seven or eight days rest. Goofy. Girardi meets the media today at 5. It should be interesting. 

---Mike Harrington

Yankee doodles live from Toronto

TORONTO -- I'm heading over to the Air Canada Centre for tonight's Sabres-Leafs game but no card-carrying baseball writer can resist a chance to stop in the Yankees' clubhouse on the way, right? The Bombers are here in the Rogers Centre tonight to open a three-game series and their magic number to clinch a playoff berth is down to 1. So here's some of the pregame chatter I collected:

---Manager Joe Girardi on the potential for a postgame celebration even though the Yanks are locked in a tight division race with the Rays: "It would be a nice thing to see. The division is very important to us but I left it up to the players. If they want to celebrate, I'll respect that. They've worked very hard this year and they should do what they want."

---Girardi said the rotation is far from set. He said CC Sabathia is still slated to go tomorrow but I would bet he gets pushed back to Friday in Boston and Dustin Moseley, who was yanked for Phil Hughes on Sunday, would get the call. That would allow Sabathia to be on his normal day and not have too much rest before Game One of the division series. Said Girardi: "Anytime you have a chance to set something up, you'd prefer to set something up. I'm not going to get too far ahead. It seems like everyone wants to get far ahead but I'm not going to. You've got to worry about winning tonight."

---So how did the Red Sox steal four bases in the ninth inning off Mariano Rivera last night? Girardi said his closer was slow to the plate and got locked in some predictable timing. Catcher Jorge Posada said Rivera needs to be quicker and pay attention to runners. What was Rivera's thought?

"They were running. What can I say? They kept running and we didn't get them out," Rivera said. "You don't want them to run, don't let them get on base."

"It's tough. It's frustrating," Posada said. "You want to sail through. It's a 2-1 game but they did a good job with his pitches and distracted him. Mo pays good attention to the running game. It happens. They ran on him. Usually they don't."

---Rivera has blown three saves and has a 9.53 ERA in his last six outings. He worked on some mechanical adjustments today in the bullpen and said he has no health issues.

"It's a new day. I'm a guy that whatever happens, good or bad, it's a new day," Rivera said. "The game will be a new challenge. ... Everybody has bumps and bruises. I'm no different. Everything is good, guys. Don't try to find things. It's all great."

Let the record show he was smiling when he said that. Said Girardi: "It shows Mo's human. Sometimes we don't think he is."

---Posada admitted he was disappointed to not be in the lineup tonight with A.J. Burnett on the mound. Girardi said it's because the Yankees didn't get here until nearly 4 a.m. Still, Posada not working well with Burnett became an issue last postseason and may become one again. Francisco Cervelli will catch.

"I want to be back there. I thought I had a chance today," Posada said. "I'm disappointed to not be back there. But if he has a good game, you have to respect that move."

Off to the Sabres Edge. Who knows? If this one goes long, I might find my way back for the late innings. Quite a double-header.

---Mike Harrington

Wedge talks with Jays about Cito's job

Cito Gaston is heading into his final three home games as Blue Jays manager (he'll be honored before Wednesday's home finale against the Yankees) and talk in Toronto is starting to really turn toward his replacements.

This Toronto Sun story has lots of info, topped by the news that former Bisons/Indians manager Eric Wedge interviewed with the club last week. Wedge, who is also on the Cubs' radar, recently moved to East Aurora from Cleveland. His wife, remember, is an Alden native he met while he was managing in Buffalo. No question the Blue Jays' job would probably be at or near the top of Wedge's wish list.

Mets scout and former Arizona manager Bob Melvin has also interviewed. Toronto bench coach Nick Leyva and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg are also on the Toronto list. It would make sense for the Jays to also be interested in former Montreal third baseman Tim Wallach, now a successful Triple-A manager at Albuquerque of the Dodgers' chain.

New GM Alex Anthopoulos is from Montreal and that certainly helps Wallach. But a young GM who wants to build with young talent definitely fits Wedge's portfolio as well. That's exactly what he did in Cleveland with Mark Shapiro. I don't think the way things ended in Cleveland the last two years hurts Wedge all that much. They traded back-to-back Cy Young winners (CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee). What's a manager to do?

---Mike Harrington

Around the horn: Chapman hits 105!

Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman earned a slice of history last night by throwing the fastest recorded pitch in major-league history, a 105-mph heater -- yes, I said 105 mph -- in an eighth-inning at-bat against Tony Gwynn during the Reds' 4-3 loss at San Diego.

Here's the highlights from Chapman's outing, including the 105-mph pitch. I love hearing the oohs and aahs in the crowd as each speed is posted on the left-field wall at Petco Park. The guy has thrown 74 of his 159 big-league pitches at or above 100 mph since being recalled from Louisville. Amazing.

Things are starting to sort themselves out in the National League races. The Phillies have won 11 straight after last night's 3-2 win over the Mets and their magic number is two to clinch the NL East. The Padres' win has them a half-game ahead of the fading Braves in the NL wild-card race. San Diego is a half-game behind San Francisco in the NL West after the Giants' 2-1 win at suddenly-fading Colorado. The Rockies have dropped five straight and are four out of the wild card with nine to play.

So much for the Yankees' 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East, huh? They've lost three straight, including Friday's 10-8 defeat to the Red Sox, and Tampa Bay has won three straight to go back up by a half-game. The Rangers, meanwhile, can clinch the AL West with a win today at Oakland.

---Mike Harrington

Long-lost tape of 1960's Game 7 is found -- thanks to Bing Crosby

Here's an amazing yarn from the New York Times: The long-last NBC broadcast of Game Seven of the 1960 World Series -- the game that saw the Pirates beat the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski's walkoff homer -- has been found and will be shown this fall on MLB Network. 

Where was it found? In the California wine cellar of legendary singer Bing Crosby, who was a Pirates part owner at the time. He was too superstitious to watch the game live and headed to Paris, of all places, to listen on the radio. He had the Mel Allen-Bob Prince broadcast recorded on kinescope for later viewing if the Pirates won.

Crosby then apparently kept the reels in his vault until they were found in December by Robert Bader, vice president for marketing and production of Bing Crosby Enterprises. The company was trying to compile footage of Crosby's TV specials for a DVD release of his work.

---Mike Harrington

Around the horn: A tribute to Offermann

Off4 John Boutet, the local man with the encyclopedic Web site of area sports history known as the Buffalo Sports Museum, penned an interesting letter to the sports editor over the weekend pointing out that last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the final Bisons game at old Offermann Stadium. The 5-3 loss to Toronto on Sept. 17, 1960 marked the end of a baseball era that stretched to 1889 at the site bounded by East Ferry, Masten, Michigan and Woodlawn.  

With the death of longtime Buffalo baseball historian Joe Overfield in 2000, Boutet is one of the area's foremost experts on Offermann and, of course, has the memorabilia few of us do. He was gracious enough to send me a couple pictures of a personal ceremony of remembrance he had Friday at the site, which is now the home of the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts and was the former home of The Traditional School.

Off I  The picture above on the left is taken from where home plate used to stand. The chair is an authentic Offermann seat and the photos include an overhead shot of the stadium and the famous manual scoreboard, which was cleared by Luke Easter during a game in 1957 in perhaps the most famous single home run in Buffalo baseball history. 

The cap and jersey have the old script "B" because the Bisons were affiliated with the Detroit Tigers (and their script "D") during that time. Be sure to blow up the pictures for a closer look.

---Speaking of Triple-A baseball, Columbus won Tuesday's National Championship in Oklahoma City with a 12-6 win over Tacoma.  Former Bison David Huff was the starter and winner for the Clippers, the Cleveland affiliate who took over with the Tribe when the parent club bailed here following the 2008 season.

---All Triple-A affiliations are set for next season, with the Blue Jays again stuck in Las Vegas. The Astros and Rangers traded Round Rock and Oklahoma City, with Houston returning to Oklahoma, where it had its first affiliate from 1962-72 and Texas going to the Nolan Ryan-owned Round Rock franchise.

---Mike Harrington

It's Columbus and Tacoma for the Triple-A title

The matchup is set for Tuesday night's Triple-A National Championship, and here might be a tough one for Bisons fans to take: The Cleveland Indians have another Triple-A title.

The Columbus Clippers wrapped up the International League Governors' Cup with a 13-2 destruction of defending champion Durham on Friday, clinching the title in the Bulls' home park as Double-A callup Jason Kipnis hit for the cycle. It's Columbus' first title since 1996, when it was still the Yankees' top farm, and the fourth for the Tribe in the last 14 years. You may recall the Baby Chief Wahoos won in Buffalo in 1997, 1998 and 2004.

In the PCL, Tacoma completed a three-game sweep of defending champion Memphis with Friday's 10-6, 11-inning win.  The Rainiers had to play the entire series on the road because of renovations to their home park and still swept the Redbirds. Tacoma played its first-round home games at Safeco Field, home of the parent Mariners, but it wasn't available for this series.

Tuesday's title game in Oklahoma City will be televised on Versus live at 8 p.m. Durham won last year's title in 11 innings over Memphis.

---Mike Harrington

New York, New York: See the video as A-Rod (No. 608) and Duda (No. 1) go deep

Some longballs to remember Friday night courtesy of the Yankees and the Mets:

The Bombers were one strike away from dropping a 3-1 decision at Baltimore -- which would have been their ninth loss in 11 games. And they may have actually done that as Alex Rodriguez took a close 1-2 pitch for a ball. He then uncorked the next offering for a three-run homer that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win and, combined with a Tampa Bay loss to the Angels, put New York back in first place in the AL East.

Here' the Daily News recap on the game, including quite a mystery surrounding A.J. Burnett.

Meanwhile, the Mets lost an 8-4 decision to Atlanta but things are finally looking up for Lucas Duda. The Bisons' MVP, who was named the MVP of the entire minor-league system earlier this week, started his big-league career 0 for 10 and a disastrous 1 for 33. But he had two doubles on Thursday against the Pirates and cracked his first big-league home run last night.

Here's the video of Duda's shot. 

---Mike Harrington

No changes in IL affiliations; Columbus a win from title

There will not be any affiliation changes in the International League next season, meaning the Toronto Blue Jays are stuck in the Pacific Coast League and may, in fact, have no choice but to return to Las Vegas. Charlotte (White Sox), Durham (Tampa Bay), Scranton (Yankees) and Norfolk (Baltimore) have all signed through 2014. The only unsigned team is Pawtucket but that's a formality as the PawSox will certainly renew with Boston and extend an affilation that dates to the 1970s.

In the PCL, Texas ended its 28-year affiliation with Oklahoma City today and announced it was moving to Round Rock, the suburban Austin team owned by Nolan Ryan. So that leaves Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Portland (Padres) and Sacramento (Athletics) as the only cities without new agreements. Not much choice for the folks in Toronto. Maybe if they had taken better care of Syracuse in the J.P. Ricciardi days, they wouldn't be stuck in this situation now.

Here's a look at the current affiliation chart, courtesy of Baseball America.

On the field, meanwhile, Columbus took a 2-0 lead in the Governors' Cup finals with Thursday's 4-0 win over Durham.  The Clippers can take their first title since 1996 if they win tonight in Durham.

The winner advances to Tuesday's Triple-A National Championship game in Oklahoma City against the PCL champion. Tacoma leads Memphis in that series, 2-0, with Game Three tonight. All games are being played in Memphis because of renovations that are ongoing in Tacoma's ballpark and had to be started immediately following the regular season so they would be ready next April.

---Mike Harrington

Brewers' Hoffman shares No. 600 with his wife, a WNYer and ex-Buffalo Jill

Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman thanked plenty of people after he got save No. 600 Tuesday (former Canisius player John Axford is among them, for moving aside to let the veteran close games again after saving 20 himself this year). But found Hoffman giving credit to another source: His wife.

As this story attests, Tracy Hoffman has been particularly supportive of Hoffman's work on the field and in his charitable endeavors in their 17 years of marriage. Lo and behold, it turns out Tracy Hoffman (the former Tracy Burke) is an ex-Buffalo Jill from Williamsville.

Hoffman proposed to her at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena during the Bills' 52-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII, two months before he made his major-league debut with the Florida Marlins. I had never heard this connection before. Hoffman did play in 1992 for Nashville in the American Association (career stats here) and they met while he was in town to play the Bisons.

Here's a USA Today story from 2006 discussing the courtship and Super proposal.

Another entry from the small world department.

---Mike Harrington

Bisons' Gee is a whiz for Mets in first start

Here's Adam Rubin's report on on Dillon Gee's terrific first outing as a Met, a seven-inning stint in Tuesday's 4-1 win in Washington.

The Mets are worried about Gee's innings load between Buffalo and the big leagues, so he might not get another start. That's too bad really but it's good to see they rewarded him for all his work in Buffalo with a chance in the big leagues. I remain disappointed that Justin Turner didn't get a callup from the Bisons, and he deserved one even before Monday's 6-for-6 game in Rochester. But there's really no room on the infield with Luis Hernandez and newcomer Joaquin Arias there in addition to Ruben Tejada and Luis Castillo.

Here's Gee's postgame session with reporters last night:.

---Mike Harrington

Herd strikeout king Gee starts tonight for Mets

Dillon Gee will never be confused for Johan Santana but he will replace the Mets' ace in the rotation tonight at Washington and you can watch the game at 7 p.m. on SNY. Santana is dealing with a pectoral muscle strain. 

Gee, who won 13 games and struck out a franchise-record 165 batters for the Bisons this season, will be opposing Washington rookie and Cuban defector Yunesky Maya. It will mark the first time in Mets history two pitchers making their big-league debuts will oppose each other.

Here's an clip of Gee talking to reporters Monday about his chance to start and his penchant for strikeouts this season in Buffalo, where he was named the Bisons' Comeback Player of the Year.

---Mike Harrington

Backman, DiStefano take team to Jamestown tonight for NY-P playoffs

If you're in the Southern Tier tonight, the Jamestown Jammers will be hosting Game One of the New York-Penn League playoffs against the league's top team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, at 7:05 in Diethrick Park (directions here). Jamestown won the NY-P wild-card with a 43-32 record. Brooklyn was 51-24. The other semifinal series has Batavia playing Game One tonight at Tri-City. The Muckdogs host Games Two and Three the next two nights in Dwyer Stadium.

Brooklyn is the Mets affiliate is managed by former 1986 Met Wally Backman, seemingly a favorite of the New York media to take over Jerry Manuel's job as soon as next year. But as this column from Steve Popper of the Bergen Record shows, some NYC media are correct in pointing out Backman is still in A ball and should keep quiet. The hitting coach for Brooklyn, by the way, is Benny DiStefano, a 1988 Triple-A all-star who was perhaps the most popular player on the Bisons during the '88 inaugural season in then-Pilot Field.

---Mike Harrington

Fabulous fades to the finish: Padres, Columbus, Sandberg's I-Cubs

Lots of choking going on around the diamonds the last few days. The Padres dropped 10 straight and nearly all of their NL West lead before finally snapping the skid with Monday's win over the Giants. It's the first time since the 1932 Pirates a team has lost at least 10 in a row and still maintained a division lead.

In the International League, Wednesday's semifinal openers are set as North Division champ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plays Columbus, the wild-card team, and South Division champ Durham meets West Division champion Louisville. Columbus lost four straight over the weekend to last-place Toledo to blow the West, allowing Louisville to cap a comeback from 13 games down in early July with its win over Indianapolis.

And there was plenty of drama in the Pacific Coast League as well. Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg did his job to keep Cubdom going by blowing his North Division crown over the final two games at home against defending league champion Memphis. Guess he's got a future in Chicago?

The I-Cubs suffered an 8-7, 15-inning loss on Saturday and dropped Sunday's game, 7-6, after leading by three runs but then giving up a ninth-inning home run (two longballs by ex-Bison Jason Dubois weren't enough for Iowa to survive). The teams actually finish tied but Memphis won the playoff berth on the tiebreaker of best division record. Boo to that. They should have played again today in my book.

So the PCL matchups are Memphis vs. Oklahoma City and Tacoma vs. Sacramento. Durham beat Memphis in last year's Triple-A National Championship and the Sept. 21 game could have the home club in it this year; it's played annually at Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

---Mike Harrington

Altobelli statue unveiling tonight before Bisons game in Rochester

Even for relatively meaningless games in the standings, I know many people make the short hop down the Thruway for Bisons' games in Rochester's Frontier Field, one of the happiest place you'll find to watch a game (as long as you're not looking at the Red Wings' hideous 49-93 record!).

If you're going for tonight's 7:05 game, be advised that the gates open at 5:30 and there's a 5:45 ceremony in the Walk of Fame area down the left field line to unveil a statue in honor of Rochester legend Joe Altobelli, the former Red Wings manager and broadcaster and the man who skippered the Baltimore Orioles to the World Series title in 1983.

Longtime Altobelli friends Don Zimmer and Jim Frey will be on hand for the unveiling. So will International League president Randy Mobley. It's a great honor for a great guy, as this story in today's Rochester D&C attests. Chatting with Alto about his years in the game in the Red Wings press box over the years has been one of the many highlights of my run covering the Bisons. 

Speaking of the Red Wings, they broke their 12-game losing streak last night by beating Syracuse. It's the third time in their long history they've lost 12 straight and they broke the skid all three times against the Chiefs.

---Mike Harrington

That's a wrap from the ballpark

The Bisons lost to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre,  9-2, on Thursday night to provide a downer of a finish to what's been a pretty entertaining year at Coca-Cola Field. The Bisons went 17-3 at one stretch in late July through mid-August but you just can't keep that up indefinitely. 

Here's what's cluttering my mind after the home finale:

Bisons' record: The Herd is 73-67 overall but just 4-11 in the last 15 games. Still, three wins in the final four games at Lehigh Valley in Rochester would provide 76 wins -- and a 20-win improvement over last year's disaster. That would be the biggest one-season jump in the modern era without an affiliation change (the team improved by 27 wins from 1994 to 1995 when it switched from Pittsburgh to Cleveland).

Kudos to the Mets for getting players in here, both free agents and better prospects. It's five straight non-playoff seasons and counting now in Buffalo but this one was a close shave. A couple fewer injuries and a couple better performances in New York and this team keeps even more players and makes a deep run.

Mets: I know they don't need a whole lot more players at this point. But it would be nice to see Jesus Feliciano and Justin Turner get a few more big-league at-bats. I'm betting Nick Evans gets another look. Will be interesting to see if they give Dillon Gee a start and perhaps take a look at former Nationals closer Chad Cordero, who has a 1.76 ERA in 16 appearances with Buffalo and seems like he's on the road back from two years of shoulder trouble.

Gee, in fact, might get that look now that I see Johan Santana came out of Thursday's game in Atlanta with a strained pectoral muscle. No need for the Mets to push him if there's any sort of issue. Why not give Gee a start?

Attendance: The Bisons finished fifth in the IL and their total ticket count for the season of 575,296 is more than 45,000 above last year with a few more dates. The average went up slightly from 8,027 to 8,219. Good to see. The team should be able to get above 600,000 if it's a division winner and gets to the playoffs.

Syracuse Chiefs: They've won five straight to take over second place in the IL North from the Bisons. Their operators must be having a good laugh at Buffalo's expense, potentially finishing ahead of the Herd in the standings both years of the teams' affiliate switches (Nationals and Mets, respectively) and raking in the dough this year with the Stephen Strasburg Show.

Rochester Dead Things, er Red Wings: They've lost 11 straight, one shy of their all-time record. They're 48-92 after tonight's 7-3 loss to Syracuse. They play two more against the Chiefs and finish against the Bisons Sunday and Monday. Oh, how the Herd must wish those games were meaningful. 

Durham Bulls: The defending Triple-A champions are a favorite to repeat for the Governors' Cup and who are two of their starting pitchers now? Bobby Livingston and Ramon Ortiz, who spent gobs of time with the Herd this year.

Chicken Wings: As I write this late Thursday evening, they're rolling out plastic covers for the outfield for this weekend's National Chicken Wing Festival. Guess baseball season in this town is over until the 2011 opener on Thursday, April 7 against Syracuse.


---Mike Harrington

Bisons set for home finale

"Thank You Fans" is painted in script, Mets-style blue and orange on the grass behind home plate because tonight's game is almost certainly a good-bye to Coca-Cola Field for the 2010 Buffalo Bisons. One more loss by the Herd or one more win by either Louisville or Columbus will officially eliminate the Bisons from contention for the wild card.

It's Fan Appreciation Night and a big crowd is expected for the home finale. There will be a pregame awards presentation, in-game giveaways and the season's second-largest postgame fireworks display. Couple reminders: First pitch is at 6:05, not the normal 7:05. And the game is on Time Warner 87 (not 13) because of the broadcast of the UB-Rhode Island football game.

Dillon Gee (13-7) is on the mound for the Herd, trying to become Buffalo's first 14-game winner since Jason Jacome went 14-2 in 1998. Gee has a franchise-record 161 strikeouts on the season. Scranton will counter with $46 million Japanese bust Kei Igawa. Buffalo catcher Mike Nickeas has been called up to the Mets, returning the duties to J.R. House.

Still watching the IL batting race with Buffalo's Jesus Feliciano desperately trying to get the 389 plate appearances he needs to qualify. With five games left, Feliciano is at 349. Hitless at-bats can be added to his total after Monday's finale for him to qualify but will they still allow his average to be ahead of Gwinnett's Barbaro Canizares? We'll see. 

Canizares and Feliciano enter tonight at .340 and Feliciano certainly needs to build a cushion if he's going to be credited with hitless at-bats in a few days.

Here's the Buffalo lineup:

Jesus Feliciano, rf
Justin Turner, 2b
Russ Adams, ss
Nick Evans, 1b
Valentino Pascucci, dh
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, cf
Mike Cervenak, 3b
Andy Green, lf
J.R. House, c
Dillon Gee, p

---Mike Harrington

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |