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Hot-hitting Bisons OF Pillar gets call to Toronto

By Mike Harrington

Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus has been dealing with some hamstring tightness and could land on the disabled list. That hasn't happened yet but the Jays are dealing with a short bench and Sportsnet's Shi Davidi is reporting they have called up Kevin Pillar from the Bisons, costing the Herd one of the hottest hitters in its lineup for tonight's series opener against Gwinnett in Coca-Cola Field.

(2:30 update: The Blue Jays have officially made the move, calling up Pillar and returning infielder Jonathan Diaz to the Bisons)

Pillar was hitting .305 for the Bisons with one homer and 19 RBIs and had a team-high 43 hits. but those numbers hardly tell the story of his last few weeks. After a 1-for-24 start to the season, Pillar has been one of the International League's most dangerous hitters.

Pillar is hitting .359 in his last 117 at-bats, .392 in May and .403 in his last 10 games. He's reached base in an IL-high 26 straight games, is tied for the league lead in doubles (13) and is tied for second in extra-base hits (17). He batted .403 during an 18-game hitting streak that ended May 6 and rates as the best in Triple-A this season.

Pillar batted .299 in 52 games last year for the Bisons and hit .206 in 36 games for the Blue Jays.

Romero on the mound as Bisons open series in IL's newest park

Bisons broadcaster Ben Wagner (@BenWag247) tweeted this view of the vista at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte last night as he stopped in for the Knights' game against Lehigh Valley. The Bisons open a four-game series there tonight. (Click for a bigger view)

By Mike Harrington

The Bisons open a four-game series tonight in Charlotte and it will be their first look at BB&T Ballpark, the gleaming 10,000-seat facility that is the talk of the International League in the first month of the season. The Charlotte Knights used  to play across the border in Fort Mill, SOUTH Carolina and were at the bottom of the IL attendance charts.

Not any more. They enter tonight's game No. 1 in the league, averaging 9,483 for 15 openings. (The Bisons are seventh at 5,493).

On the field, Charlotte is just 12-21 and lost four straight to the Bisons last week in Coca-Cola Field. The Bisons (18-13) remain in a virtual tie for first in the IL North but lost the final three games of their series in Gwinnett.

Ricky Romero makes his sixth start of the season tonight for Buffalo. He remains without a decision in his first five, while  compiling a 4.88 ERA. Romero allowed a season-high five runs over four innings in a no-decision to the Knights last Saturday,  in a game the  Bisons rallied to win in the ninth, 6-5.

As for the picture above, that's one incredible view of downtown Charlotte. Why didn't Buffalo build its park like that to face downtown and not the expressway? It's all based  on the size of the stadium  lot, the position of the sun and the shadows caused by the old HSBC Tower. Unfortunately, they pretty much built it the only way they really could.

Stroman escapes jam in 9th, gets first MLB win as Blue Jays nip Phils in 10th

Marcus Stroman works in the ninth inning Tuesday in Philly. (AP Photo)


By Mike Harrington

It looks like the Blue Jays will initially keep Marcus Stroman in the bullpen (think David Price, '08 Rays), and that's no problem for the former Bisons ace. After all, he's in the big leagues at 23 after pitching just five games in Triple-A with the Herd.

The iffy back end of the rotation (think Dustin McGowan and J.A. Happ) did fine this time through so there's no reason for the Jays to rush Stroman into the mix just yet. Let him get his feet wet in the pen -- but he's not getting mop-up duty.

Stroman came into a 5-5 game Tuesday night in Philadelphia -- and needed to get the final out of the ninth with the winning run at third -- before the Jays pulled out a 6-5 victory in the 10th on Juan Francisco's sacrifice fly. That gave Stroman his first big-league win in just his second appearance.

"My heart was pounding. Can’t describe it, but I was definitely amped up," said Stroman, whose father was at the game and who earned a post-game beer shower from teammates.

Newsday has this report on the Long Island native's win, including an interview with his mother.

Go to the video: Kawasaki does Bisons' in-game interview

By Mike Harrington

The Bisons' broadcast team does an in-game interview during each home contest, and Ben Wagner and Duke McGuire usually talk strategy with manager Gary Allenson. During Sunday's series finale against Charlotte, they tried a different idea.

Brace yourself, Toronto. It was Munenori Kawasaki.

The Japanese infielder became a folk hero in Toronto -- and earned himself a couple appearances on MLB Network's "Intentional Talk" -- with a post-game interview that went completely viral after his walkoff hit beat the Orioles last May. This one was simply epic.

So starting off with that reference to "I am Japaneeeeese", here's how Kawasaki's chat went Sunday. His English is improving for sure. Note the references to Buffalo's cold weather, coaching at first base, living in a hotel and sushi.

With hit streak at 16, Herd's Pillar named IL Batter of the Week

By Mike Harrington

Bisons outfielder Kevin Pillar, who extended his hitting streak to 16 games during Sunday's win over Charlotte, was named the International League Batter of the Week today. Pillar's streak is the longest current one in the league.

Pillar hit .444 for the week (12 for 27) with nine RBIs as the Bisons won their final six games of a 7-1 homestand to take over first place in the IL North Division. Among his highlights were a 4-for-4 game in last Monday's 17-5 thrashing of Louisville, scoring the only run in Friday's 1-0, 11-inning victory over Charlotte and lashing a two-run walkoff triple in the bottom of the ninth Saturday to beat the Knights, 6-5.

Pillar enters tonight's series opener at Gwinnett batting .275 with 15 RBIs. After opening the season in a 1-for-24 slump, he has batted .341 since -- and is batting .385 since April 17. Pillar is Buffalo's first IL batter honoree since Luis Jimenez took the honor April 15-21, 2013. 

The IL Pitcher of the Week is Columbus' Josh Tomlin, who tossed a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts Thursday at Durham. Tomlin, who pitched one game for the Bisons in 2008, is 2-1, 2.06 in five starts for Columbus this year but is expected to be promoted to Cleveland to make Tuesday's start against Minnesota. He went 12-7 for the Tribe in 2011.

Bisons ace Stroman gets call from beleaguered Blue Jays

By Mike Harrington

It took an injury in the Toronto starting rotation and another blowup by the Blue Jays' bullpen but Bisons ace Marcus Stroman earned his first big-league callup to the Blue Jays late Saturday night.

Stroman had his contract purchased from Buffalo and will initially join the beleaguered Toronto bullpen after Blue Jays relievers gave up six runs over the seventh and eighth innings of an 8-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park. Following Friday's 6-5 loss to the Pirates, Toronto closer Sergio Santos was bounced from that role after giving up two ninth-inning home runs.

Starter Brandon Morrow was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a a torn sheath in his hand Saturday and could miss the rest of the season. That prompted Stroman's recall.

John Lott of the National Post has this recap of Saturday night's game, featuring many interesting quotes from the clubhouse on the bullpen woes. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet offers his views with this column.

Stroman, who turned 23 on Thursday, was Toronto's No. 1 draft pick in 2012. He is 2-2 with a 1.69 ERA in five starts for the Bisons, with 36 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 2/3 innings. He threw six no-hit innings in his last start Tuesday against Louisville but was pulled due to an 80-pitch limit. 

Stroman will intially start in the bullpen, clearly piggy-backing Dustin McGowan's start Sunday in Pittsburgh and J.A. Happ's outing Monday in Philadelphia. Then we'll see if the Blue Jays put him in the rotation next weekend at home against the Los Angeles Angels. That's what I told the Blue Jays they needed to do in my column Thursday.

Stroman was scheduled to be the starter in the Bisons' road trip opener Monday at Gwinnett, so we'll also have to see how the Herd moves forward with its rotation.

An avid social media user, here's what Stroman had to say late Saturday night.

A look back at a good April for Bisons as May opens with (naturally) roster moves

By Mike Harrington

After Wednesday's International League off day, the Bisons started May with some player moves today as the Toronto Blue Jays called up outfielder Anthony Gose and infielder Steve Tolleson from the Herd. The Jays then returned infielder Jonathan Diaz to Buffalo and designated Moises Sierra for assignment, with hopes the outfielder could clear waivers and return to the Herd.

The Blue Jays appear to have given up on Sierra for now after he batted just .059 in limited duty. Tolleson, batting .236 for the Bisons,  provides added depth for interleague play coming up in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 

The Bisons open a four-game series against Charlotte  tonight at 7 in Coca-Cola Field. They are 13-10 and one game out of first place in the International League North. 

Here's where the Bisons stand out of the 14 IL teams through the first month:

Average: .246 (8th)
Runs:  108 (6th)
Runs/game: 4.7 (5th)
Home runs: 11 (12th)
Steals: 24 (3rd)
Steal percentage: .774 (24-31-4th)
OBP: .337 (6th)
Slugging: .354 (9th)
Strikeouts: 164 (12th)
Walks: 103 (3rd)
OPS: .691 (8th)

ERA: 3.06 (1st)
Strikeouts: 190 (10th)
Walks: 91 (8th)
Hits: 187 (12th)
Home Runs: 14 (9th)
Saves: 8 (3rd)

After a week of play, it's the first fridaynightbash! for good-looking Herd in game two vs. PawSox

By Mike Harrington

We've gone through the first week of the International League season and the Buffalo Bisons have dodged three rainouts to post a 4-2 record heading into tonight's 6:05 game in Coca-Cola Field against the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Some quick numbers on the Herd thus far:

Batting: .240 (believe it or not, 7th in the 14-team IL)
Runs: 30 (T-6th)
Runs per game: 5.0 (5th)
ERA: 3.00 (2nd)

The Bisons have scored a lot early (seven runs in first innings, their highest total) and have scored a lot late (five runs in the eighth, four in two extra-inning wins). Their batters have been selective, walking 29 times in six games, while the pitchers have a 2-1 strikeout-walk ratio (54-27 in 57 innings).

Among individuals:
---Anthony Gose has hit in all five starts, posting a .423 on-base percentage to go with a .286 average.
---Newly acquired Juan Francisco leads the team in batting (.429), on-base (.478), slugging (.714) and OPS (1.193). Dan Johnson is second (.300/.464/1.114) and Johnson and Francisco have split the team's four home runs.
----In need of a quick breakout: Kevin Pillar is 2 for 25 and Mike Nickeas is 1 for 16.
----Reliever Bobby Korecky is one of four IL pitchers with two wins, and both Korecky and Chad Jenkins have six scoreless innings out of the bullpen thus far.

Kyle Drabek will make his second start of the season tonight against Pawtucket's Jeremy Kehrt. The Bisons (4-2), Rochester (4-2) and Pawtucket (5-3) are tied top the IL North thus far.

Elsewhere in the IL, it's a big night tonight in Charlotte as the Knights officially move downtown to BB&T Ballpark with  7:05 game against Norfolk. Props to the folks down there for getting that project done and here's hoping they remember April 11, 2014 as fondly as we recall April 14, 1988.

The Bisons' lineup tonight:

Anthony Gose,  cf
Steve Tolleson,  2b
Juan Francisco, 3b
Dan Johnson, 1b
Matt Tuiasosopo, lf
Kevin Pillar, rf
Andy LaRoche, dh
Mike Nickeas,  c
Munenori Kawasaki,  ss
Kyle Drabek, p

Farewell, winter: Bisons announcer takes to the air with great audio montage

By Mike Harrington

So are you ready for Opening Day? Bisons radio/TV man Ben Wagner sure is. Here's how Wagner opened things on the air today, with the sounds of one harsh winter giving way -- finally -- to the sounds of spring and summer.

Great stuff.

Ben Wagner kicks off the 2014 season.

Looking back at Bisons' home openers

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- I won't be at Coca-Cola Field today as I'm here in the shadow of the Gateway Arch chasing Ryan Miller and Jake McCabe in the same downtown where I spent plenty of time last October. I'm also apparently going to be dodging tornadoes all day too. Yeesh.

Much better back home for today's Bisons home opener, which will be just the second one in Coca-Cola Field's 27 seasons that I have missed. Strangely enough, the other one was also on April 3 -- in 2003, while I was covering Carmelo Anthony-led Syracuse in the Final Four with New Orleans.

The Bisons are 16-10 in CCF openers and have won three of the last four. Amazingly enough, they have scored 12 runs in each of the last two home openers, posting a 12-3 win over Scranton in 2012 in their final year as a Mets affiliate and a 12-7 win last year over Rochester in their debut with the Blue Jays. That's some un-Sabres-like offense there! 

Those games were certainly fun and there's been plenty of good moments in the curtain-raisers downtown. Here's a quick flip through my mind of some of the most interesting moments, with links to stories. (No link to the first one, unfortunately, as our electronic system dates to 1989).

April 14, 1988 -- Buffalo 1, Denver 0. There is no other comparison. The parade, the ceremonies on Swan Street, the first pitch, the home run by Tom Prince, the near no-hitter by Bob Patterson. We will never feel the way we did that day. Somebody, bless your heart, has a great YouTube posted of it all. Relive it here.

April 8, 1993 -- Buffalo 8, Omaha 1. It was my first opener as the paper's No. 1 beat writer covering the team and the first year I went to spring training. I reveled in 80-degree weather in Florida and it was perfect here too. It was 76 and sunny. Best weather day we've ever had for an opener. 

April 10, 1998 -- Buffalo 4, Rochester 0. The Herd's return to the International League was delayed a day by rain and so was the team's 1997 American Association championship banner ceremony but the game was just about perfect. Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famers Torey Lovullo and Richie Sexson both homered.

April 12, 2000 -- Buffalo 6, Ottawa 2. An otherwise nondescript game is made memorable by a 42-minute delay in the fifth inning when a heavy snow squall hits the ballpark while Chan Perry is trying to bat. "I had two snowflakes hit me in the eye in five pitches," Perry said. "It was just like you had five million mosquitoes or gnats, whatever you want to choose, coming straight at your face. It was horrible."

April 3, 2003 -- Buffalo 10, Pawtucket 8 as Jody Gerut tells Amy Moritz of ice in his hat and cleats. The coldest opener ever was played through sleet and 29-degree temperatures. And the next SIX days were all postponed by winter weather. The one I missed was pretty bizarre.

April 11, 2008 -- Toledo 4, Buffalo 1.  A rainy and warm Friday night is made more significant by the fact the Cleveland Indians announce they're not discussing an extension of the working agreement until after the season. It pretty much sealed the fact they were leaving for Columbus after the season.

Peace Bridge to light up in honor of Bisons' opener, now just a week away at Coca-Cola Field

By Mike Harrington

We're exactly one week away from the Buffalo Bisons' home and season opener in Coca-Cola Field, the April 3 matchup with the Rochester Red Wings that is scheduled for a 2:05 first pitch.

The team seems to be getting a break on the weather. The long-range forecast looks palatable for the opener, with a high of 48 currently listed for next Thursday and only a 30 percent chance of rain. 

The team's equipment truck is scheduled to arrive from the Blue Jays' spring home in Dunedin, Fla., on Monday and the first workout in Buffalo under new manager Gary Allenson is Tuesday afternoon. The team will also workout Wednesday afternoon. The sessions are not open to the public.

Starting Wednesday night at 9 p.m. and stretching until Thursday morning at 1 a.m, the Peace Bridge will be illuminated to celebrate the return of baseball to the region and the binational partnership between the Bisons and Blue Jays. The lights will alternate between Bisons red and Blue Jays blue.

This is the second straight year the Peace Bridge has been lit in support of the Bisons/Blue Jays partnership. The Peace Bridge Authority and Bisons will once again work together on a number of promotional and marketing ventures to promote cross-border travel to Coca-Cola Field.

Bisons' rotation taking shape as Blue Jays make some minor-league assignments

By Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Bisons' strength out of the gate in 2014 is going to be the starting rotation and that's an easy call for any modest observer of the Toronto Blue Jays' system. Things started to crystallize Sunday as the Jays sent lefty Sean Nolin and righties Kyle Drabek and Chad Jenkins to their minor-league camp to get them ready to open the season with the Herd.

Nolin, 24, spent most of last season with Double-A New Hampshire and was 8-3, 3.01 in 17 starts while pitching for new Bisons manager Gary Allenson. Nolin was named an Eastern League mid-season all-star and earned an August promotion to the Bisons (1-1, 1.53 in three starts).

Drabek, 26, spent 2013 on the mend from Tommy John surgery that he had in 2012. He reached Buffalo in mid-August and 1-2, 3.77 in four games (three starts).  Drabek was then promoted to the Blue Jays,  where he allowed two runs in three relief appearances. Drabek was 4-7, 4.67 in 13 starts for the Blue Jays in 2012 before suffering his elbow injury during a June start against Washington.

Jenkins, 26, pitched for New Hampshire, Toronto and the Bisons last season. He was 1-0, 2.70 in 33.1 innings for the Blue Jays while going 0-3, 7.48 in five June starts for Buffalo. 

The biggest prize awaiting the Bisons is top Toronto prospect Marcus Stroman, the Jays' No. 1 pick in 2012. He remains in big-league camp fighting for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Stroman went 9-5, 3.30 in 20 starts last year at New Hampshire. 

The Bisons will likely have their first workout in Buffalo on April 1. The home and season opener is April 3 at 2:05 against Rochester in Coca-Cola Field.

Brown on leaving Bisons: Farrell connection hurt him in Jays' eyes

By Mike Harrington

Off my vacation perch, I caught up with now ex-Bisons manager Marty Brown early this evening as he was wrapping up some Christmas shopping at home in Missouri. Brown told the Toronto Blue Jays late last week he would not be returning to Buffalo in 2014 and it's certainly no reflection of our fair city or the Bisons.

Brown said that he felt his connection to former Toronto manager John Farrell didn't help his standing in the Jays' organization. Farrell, of course, left the Jays in 2012 on pretty bad terms to take over in Boston. (If you need to know the rest of the story, this probably isn't the blog for you)

"My own opinion is that I knew John from Cleveland and he called me for this job when we were in Las Vegas and then he didn't leave on the greatest of terms," Brown said. "People have affiliated me with John and i think it's kind of hurt me in this organization. I don't have any big affiliation with John. I didn't go to Boston. I tried to do my job and do the best job I could. Toronto never had anything really bad to say to me. I just don't know if there was a huge trust factor and it's best for them to get somebody in there they like."

What Brown essentially told me is if the Blue Jays aren't going to give him a real chance in the major leagues, it was just time to move on and try something else. Translation: Toronto hired ex-Bison Tim Leiper to be its new first base coach, giving Brown what amounted to a perfunctory interview for the job. And that was a final straw.

"They knew who they wanted to hire and that's fine," Brown said. "It makes me feel more in terms of being a manager, is this worth my time and effort to keep doing what i'm doing? A part of you feels like I'm kicking myself in my head. And not just with the Blue Jays. I wasn't getting any interviews from other guys either.

"You try to evaluate yourself and where you're at and what you're doing....I just thought maybe I would step away for a while and see if I can do something else."

Brown isn't ruling out another Triple-A managerial job for next year. Nor is he ruling out a return to manage in Japan, where he managed from 2006-2010 and met his wife. He said scouting might also be another option.

Who might the Bisons suggest to the Blue Jays? I'll have some ideas in my story in Tuesday's editions of The News.

Blue Jays sign former IL MVP Johnson to minor-league deal

By Mike Harrington

A big potential signing for the Bisons today as the Toronto Blue Jays announced they have signed veteran first baseman Dan Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League spring training.

Johnson, 34, spent most of last season with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before finishing the year with five games for the Norfolk Tides. Combined, the left-handed slugger hit .250 with 26 doubles, 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 138 games. He also led the league with 96 walks (to only 85 strikeouts).

Johnson has been one of the top sluggers in the International League since 2008 with four teams. He was the IL MVP for Durham in 2010 after hitting .303 and leading the league with 31 home runs, a .430 on-base pct. and a .624 slugging pct. in 98 games.

Johnson has finished in the Top 10 in home runs in the IL four times since 2008, leading the league in 2012 with 28 for Charlotte. He was an IL all-star in 2010 and won the league’s Home Run Derby. He also played in the 2012 Triple-A All-Star Game at Coca-Cola Field (for Charlotte) and finished second in the Home Run Derby behind Bisons slugger Valentino Pascucci.

In his eight-year Major League career, Johnson has played in 416 combined games with Oakland, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He has hit .236 with 59 doubles, 56 home runs and 194 RBI for his big league career.

Johnson is best known for the video at the top of this post -- a dramatic bottom of the ninth, two-out, two-strike home run for Tampa Bay on the last day of the 2011 season. It forged a 7-7 tie with the Yankees in a game the Rays would win in the 11th and helped them nose out Boston for the AL wild-card. 

Twenty years ago tonight, Joe Carter touched 'em all for Jays

The famous call of Hall of Fame Blue Jays radio voice Tom Cheek and the call of CBS' Sean McDonough.

By Mike Harrington

BOSTON -- Weren't we supposed to be in the Rogers Centre tonight? That was the talk all winter. The Toronto Blue Jays were finally going to become relevant again, just as they joined up with the Bisons on a new affiliation.

Remember that lengthy cover story in March to our MLB preview section with the incredible cartoon on the cover? I went to Jays spring training in Florida and optimism was everywhere, even so much as R.A. Dickey telling me, "It’s great to have depth throughout the organization. I can guarantee you we’re not going to win a World Series without being able to call Buffalo and have people from Triple-A able to help. It just doesn’t work. They’re going to be vital to our chances this year."

It all went awry, of course. The Blue Jays finished last in the AL East when many people picked them to win it. The Red Sox finished first when many people picked them to finish last. They're hosting Game One of the World Series tonight at Fenway against the Cardinals.

So the Jays' drought continues. And it dates to 20 years ago tonight -- Oct. 23, 1993 -- when Joe Carter hit just the second walkoff home run to end a Series in the history of the Fall Classic to beat Mitch Williams and the Phillies in Game Six at the then-Skydome. The Jays haven't played a single postseason inning since.

Carter nearly left Toronto in free agency after the '92 title and returned home to play for the Royals, as this Kansas City Star column reprinted in today's Toronto Star reveals. Wow. Never heard that story. 

Gregor Chisolm of has this retrospective with Carter.

Sportsnet has a great collection of memories from lots of the folks involved.

Scott MacArthur of TSN was in the stands that night as a 14-year-old and provided his personal memories. I will remind him when I see him here tonight that he should have kept his braces on.

And what about Williams, the Phillies' "Wild Thing?" He answered wave after wave of questions that night and our own Jerry Sullivan gave us his tale in this look from the archives

Bisons extend radio deal with ESPN1520

By Mike Harrington

BOSTON --  The Buffalo Bisons have announced a three-year extension of their radio contract with newly-named ESPN1520, the former WWKB. It runs through the 2016 season. The 50,000-watt station, which has a strong reach up and down the Eastern seaboard, has been the home of the Herd since 2008 and was rebranded in September as an ESPN affiliate.

The partnership will include all 144 regular season Bisons’ games, the broadcast of the annual Triple-A All Star Game (next year’s game is on July 16 in Durham), all Bisons’ postseason games and the Triple-A National Baseball Championship Game. 

The Bisons open 2014, their second season as a Toronto affiliate, on Thursday, April 3 against Rochester in Coca-Cola Field at 2:05 p.m.

Let Romero call it a season and other thoughts on the Bisons' finale today in Syracuse

RickyBy Mike Harrington

Ricky Romero's final outing for the Bisons was a pretty decent one Sunday night in a 5-4 win at Syracuse, and the Toronto Blue Jays should let him feel good about how things ended for him and let him call it a season.

Romero (left) hasn't pitched nearly good enough to go to the big leagues in September and why let him get boxed around and go into winter with a bad feeling?

Romero made 22 starts for the Bisons, posting a 5-8 record with a 5.78 earned run average. Yuk. Here's the rest of his numbers:

IP: 113.2
H: 136
R/ER: 81/73
BB: 63
K: 81
HR: 11
Opponents BA: .303
Total pitches: 1,897
Strikes: 1,110
Strike percentage: 58.5

Do those numbers strike you as a guy remotely ready for another try in MLB? No.

Some other storylines for today's 2 p.m. finale in Syracuse:

---Last night's win improved Buffalo's record to 73-70, so the Bisons are ensured of their first winning season since 2010 and just their second in the last six years.

---Bisons MVP Mauro Gomez and Syracuse's Zach Walters are tied for the IL home run lead with 29. Here's a good story from today's Syracuse Post-Standard on some funny byplay between the two Sunday night.

---Hard to believe what happened to Jim Negrych's season. He batted .313 prior to the all-star break -- and is at .206 since returning from Reno. He hit .185 in July and .195 in August before going 2 for 3 Sunday night.

---Norfolk has already started its noon final vs. Durham and can clinch the IL wild-card with a win. Rochester needs a Tides loss and then a win in its finale over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to sneak in. The wild-card winner plays Pawtucket in the first round of the Governors' Cup semifinals, opening Wednesday night. Durham and Indianapolis meet in the other semi.

(Romero photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Go to the video: Pillar's bizarre first MLB HR, Goins' first hit

By Mike Harrington

Lots of nice help for the Blue Jays coming from the Bisons in recent days, as Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra have all helped the big club.

For Sunday's Inside Baseball column, I talked to Pillar and Goins about their MLB debuts and how they broke through last weekend during a series in Houston.

As I talked about in the story, here's the video of Pillar's first MLB home run, the replay review and the ultimate decision. But the real key is near the end -- as umpire Bill Miller flips Pillar the ball. Neat.

Goins, meanwhile, has tied a franchise record with hits in his first eight games in the big leagues (Jesse Barfield did that as well in 1981). Here's Goins' first MLB hit:


Bisons' slim hopes still alive

By Mike Harrington

A little lost in the hoopla of the Bisons-Blue Jays PDC extension is the fact that Thursday's come-from-behind win over Rochester kept the Bisons' flickering playoff hopes alive.

The Herd pulled within 3 1/2 games of IL wild-card leader Norfolk, a 2-0 loser at Charlotte. But with only four games left, the Bisons basically have no room for error. They play the next two nights at Rochester, which is a half-game behind Norfolk, and the final two in Syracuse.

Two more wins would clinch a winning season for the Bisons, which would be one decent thing in the first season with Toronto. The best Buffalo can do is 75-69, so it will need plenty of help.

Small chances. It's pretty much wait till next year. Or more specificially, 214 days from now. To the home opener against Rochester on April 3, 2014.

Here's a look at Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos and Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski signing the new deal.

Bulletin: Bisons extend deal with Blue Jays through 2016

By Mike Harrington

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski took the field tonight at the end of the third inning with a surprise announcement to the Fan Appreciation Night crowd at Coca-Cola Field -- the Bisons and Blue Jays have agreed to a two-year extension of their player development contract, which will now run through the 2016 season.

The Bisons and Blue Jays signed a two-year deal last September and clearly made a quick decision to extend the deal so there would be no discussion of it next year. That said, the move was not unexpected. When the teams signed last fall, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston noted it was a two-year deal he hoped would last for 42 years. 

Anthopoulos and Buczkowski officially signed the deal in front of fans at a table placed in foul territory in front of the Buffalo dugout between innings, with their handshake drawing a huge round of applause from the big crowd. There was a brief video presentation, accompanied by the musical ditty "OK, Blue Jays" that has been a part of Toronto baseball for more than 30 years.

Anthopoulos and Buczkowski are scheduled to meet the media shortly to discuss the extension.

In meeting the media in the press box during tonight's game, Anthopoulos succinctly put his organization's position out there: "It was a no-brainer for us. I think anybody in Toronto could make this call."

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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 |