By: Brian Frank
The Bisons returned to the Queen City on August 10 after a 212 day absence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their lengthy time away included a cancelled 2020 minor-league season and playing part of the 2021 home schedule in Trenton, New Jersey, to accommodate the Toronto Blue Jays use of Sahlen Field.
The team's return also marked a homecoming for new Bisons manager Casey Candaele, who played for the Herd from 1995 to 1997. Candaele returned to a stadium that had undergone major renovations for the Blue Jays' stay in Buffalo, which included new bullpens, clubhouses, weight rooms, indoor batting cages, and upgraded field lighting.
“I had great times here in Buffalo,” Candaele said before the Bisons opened their six-game series with the Rochester Red Wings. “I love the city and just kind of coming in and seeing the field – walking out on the field was pretty cool, because that’s kind of the same as when I was here. I mean they did the new bullpens which are gorgeous – and obviously a new scoreboard – but just looking at the field and thinking – man, I played some games here. I had a lot of fun and met some great people.”
Bisons manager Casey Candaele. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“The upgrades and everything that they’ve done has been quite amazing,” Candaele said. “It’s a new stadium underneath, so it’s kind of amazing.”
Bisons infielder Christian Colón expressed excitement to play in Buffalo, praising the stadium renovations. “They did such a good job with this,” Colón said. “It just seems to be perfect timing for us to come. Kind of middle end of the season. Just to get that jolt of energy, to see a brand new place. They did an amazing job. It feels like the big leagues.”
Logan Warmoth echoed his teammate’s excitement about the Sahlen Field upgrades: “The majority of the team came in on the off-day on Monday just to check things out. That never happens on a Monday. You get an off-day in August, you’re not coming to the field. But everyone is just so excited and it was an amazing time”
Tuesday, August 10, 2021: Bisons 11, Rochester 0
The Bisons entered their first game at Sahlen Field since August 29, 2019, just one game behind divison leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In contrast, Rochester was in fifth place with a 33-47 record. Anthony Kay was scheduled to take the mound for the Herd against Luis Reyes, who was making his Triple-A debut. However, Kay was a late scratch due to tightness in his oblique and Jacob Waguespack made the start instead.
After a pregame ceremony that included an inspiring speech from Bisons General Manager Anthony Sprague, player introductions, and a first pitch from Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, Waguespack delivered a first pitch strike to Red Wings leadoff hitter Jecksson Flores and Bisons baseball had returned Buffalo.
Jacob Waguespack delivers the first pitch. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
The Bisons scored early and often. They took the lead in the first inning when Kevin Smith tripled home Forrest Wall. Richard Ureña then singled to bring home Smith. Logan Warmoth broke things open in the fourth inning when he launched a ball over the left-field wall to give the Herd a 5-0 lead.
“He just left it up,” Warmoth said, “and I was able to make a good swing on it.”
Logan Warmoth hit a three-run bomb. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Wall tacked on another run with an RBI double in the sixth and a pair of triples by Wall and López triggered a four-run rally in the seventh.
While Buffalo hitters were racking up runs, Waguespack and the Bisons’ bullpen were shutting down the Red Wings. Waguespack had to exit the game after 3 2/3 shutout innings due to a back issue, but relievers Dany Jiménez, Kyle Johnston, Fitz Stadler, and Travis Bergen picked up where he left off. The only hits the Red Wings recorded were both infield singles - Rafael Bautista in the fourth inning and Jake Noll in the ninth.
“Early leads can go away if you don’t shut the other team down and it gives them a chance to feel like they’re still in the game,” Candaele said. “Our bullpen and Wags both did a great job of keeping them out of the game and having shutdown innings after we scored runs.”
Wall reached base in all five of his plate appearances – with a triple, double, two walks and an HBP.
“Forrest, working counts and getting deep in the counts,” Candaelle said, “the two hits off the wall – double, triple. I think I’m most impressed with the at-bats working the walks. Being able to get on base and then swinging the bat when the ball is over the plate. He did a great job.”
Forrest Wall had a big day. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Warmoth also starred at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a three-run home run.
“Logan came out and picked us up big time early. That was a big three-run homer and then he swung the bat well the rest of the night.”
The 11-0 win was the Herd’s largest margin of victory in a Sahlen Field home opener. It was also the first shutout in a Bisons home opener since the Herd beat Rochester 4-0 in 1998. To make the day even sweeter, Scranton lost to Lehigh Valley to help Buffalo climb into a virtual tie for first place.
“It was just tremendous,” Candaelle said of the 6,404 fans in attendance. “You can’t ask for anything more coming in halfway – 81 games into the season – and you haven’t been in your home park and you come back to a reception like we had tonight. It was just tremendous. It would inspire any player. If you didn’t get inspired by being here tonight, playing in front of these fans, then you should get out of the game.”
Wednesday, August 11, 2021: Bisons 5, Rochester 0
The Bisons jumped on Rochester starter Tyler Epper in the second inning. Back-to-back doubles by Christian Colón and Otto Lopez brought home the Herd’s first run. Logan Warmoth singled to bring home Lopez. After Kellin Deglan was hit by a pitch, Nash Knight drove a ball over the left-field fence to give the Herd a 5-0 lead.
That would be all the runs either team would score. Bisons starter Nick Allgeyer was phenomenal on the mound, tossing five shutout innings on two hits and a walk while fanning four batters.
“I thought Deglan and I did a very good job of establishing the fastball early,” Allgayer said after the game. “That was some of the best command of the fastball I’ve had in a while and it just helped all my other stuff. Deglan and I were on the same page. Getting ahead – we attacked – and it really put some pressure on the hitters.”
Nick Allgeyer hurled five shutout innings. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
The bullpen was equally effective. Graham Spraker, making his Triple-A debut, worked two shutout innings through a steady rain. Hobie Harris and Jacob Barnes followed with a scoreless frame each.
The second straight shutout of the series meant Buffalo had outscored Rochester 16-0 through two games. It also gave Bisons pitchers 26 consecutive scoreless innings in which Buffalo had outscored their opponents 25-0.
“Jeff Ware and David Howell, our pitching guys here have done a great job of really talking about getting in the zone, pounding the zone, attacking from the get-go, and getting ahead” Candaele said. “Our pitchers are doing a great job of it. And when you do that and you have really god stuff like our pitchers do, then a lot of good things happen and a lot of positives. They’ve been doing a great job recently. Actually the whole year. Our bullpen has been tremendous.”
The victory, coupled with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s 9-3 loss to Lehigh Valley, moved the Bisons into sole possession of first-place.
“We’ve got a lot of new energy here getting to Buffalo” Allgayer said. “Guys are playing hard and the offense is really hot. They’re making plays behind all the pitchers too. So it’s been a fun past couple days.”
Thursday, August 12, 2021: Bisons 4, Red Wings 3
The big news before the game was that Cavan Biggio, who was coming back from a lower back injury, would be rehabbing with the Bisons and would be in the lineup as the designated hitter.
Cavan Biggio back with the Herd on rehab. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Bowden Francis took the mound for the Herd. Francis was acquired along with Trevor Richards from Milwaukee for Rowdy Tellez in early July. The Red Wings countered with lefty Josh Rogers.
As was the case in the first two games of the series, the Bisons scored first. Kevin Smith hit his 19th home run of the season, a three-run shot, in the third inning to put the Herd on top.
However, unlike the first two games, Rochester responded. After cruising through the first three innings only allowing one walk, Francis struggled a bit with his control in the fourth. He gave up a single, a walk, and hit a batter to start the inning. He then gave up a bases loaded walk to Blake Swihart to bring home the first run a Bisons pitcher had allowed in 29 2/3 innings. After a Rafael Bautista RBI single and Ali Castillo’s sacrifice fly, the game was all tied up.
Other than the three runs he allowed in the fourth inning, Francis shut the Red Wings down in his six innings of work.
“He’s got really good stuff,” Casey Candale said of Francis. “He’s really confident in his pitches. The last couple times out he’s had one inning where he lost the feel for his breaking stuff. But his fastball, he can spot it where he wants it, so it can get him through situations like that. His last two outings he’s had maybe one inning apiece where he’s lost it a little bit, but other than that he’s been great.”
Bowden Francis had a solid outing. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Forrest Wall drilled a ball to the opposite field for his first home run of the season to lead off the fifth inning.
“He’s made a little adjustment with his swing with Corey Hart and he’s thinking about driving the ball the other way and getting the barrel to the ball,” Candaelle said of Wall. “The last two nights he hit two balls off the wall and then he hit the home run tonight and then hit another deep fly ball to left field. He made a little adjustment with his swing path and he’s squaring balls up.”
Wall's home run finished the scoring for both clubs. Dany Jiménez and Bryan Baker came out of the Buffalo bullpen to shut down the Red Wings and preserve a perfect 3-0 record for the Bisons at Sahlen Field this season.
Biggio ended up going 0-for-1 with two walks and was hit by a pitch, in his return to a stadium he's very familiar with. He played 43 games with the 2019 Bisons, before playing in Buffalo the last two season with the Blue Jays.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here,” Biggio chuckled after the game. “But it’s good being here, especially with all the modifications and upgrades that they’ve done to this ballpark and also the clubhouse and weight room and all that. Coming here is always a warm welcome and I’m just looking forward to getting a couple more games under my belt and getting back out there.”
In his short time with the team, Biggio already noticed the excitement in the Bisons clubhouse over their return to Buffalo. “I think the vibe is definitely very similar to when we (the Blue Jays) went from Dunedin to here and then from Buffalo to Toronto," he said. "It’s always a breath of fresh air whenever you can come into a better facility, especially being a Triple-A guy grinding in Trenton, you’ve got to hand it to those guys. They put their heads down and they worked and they didn’t complain about the situation at all. They took advantage of it. And now that they’re finally here, I can feel that sense of a breath of fresh air that we had when we came from Dunedin to Buffalo. You’ve got a great group of guys here. I love the way they work and compete and it just makes it fun overall.”
Friday, August 13, 2021: Bisons 6, Red Wings 3
In the first Friday night bash in 102 Fridays, the Bisons put on quite a show for the 4,829 fans in attendance.
Forrest Wall was in the middle of things all night – at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. Wall threw out Keibert Ruiz from center field on a close play at the plate in the first inning when Ruiz tried to score from second on a single. In the third inning, Wall scored all the way from first base on a hit-and-run that Otto Lopez executed to perfection.
“I was stealing that pitch,” Wall said of the hit-and-run play, “and I saw him put it on the ground behind me. I just kept running and looking at Devo (third base coach Devon White) and he continued to send me, so I just kept running.”
Forest Wall caused havoc on the bases. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“Putting pressure on the defense by running the bases well – speed sometimes can dominate a game if you get in the right situations," Casey Candaele said. "He was in the right situations and he took advantage of it.”
The Bisons added to their lead by scoring three runs in the fourth inning on singles by Cullen Large, Kellin Deglan, Nash Knight, and Otto Lopez.
Meanwhile, Bisons starter Zach Logue dominated the Red Wings. Logue allowed five hits and no walks in six shutout innings, while fanning five. He even went a bit over his targeted pitch count in order to close out the sixth – an inning he retired the Red Wings in order.
“He did a great job,” Candaele said. “I mean he went after them. I think he recognized maybe they were sitting on some breaking pitches and off-speed pitches late in the count with two strikes and he made the adjustment, He and (catcher) Kellin Deglan did a great job back there of making an adjustment and going with some fastballs later in the count and freezing some guys.”
“He wanted to go out for the seventh,” Candaele added. “When you have a pitcher that wants to keep going and you have to tell them ‘OK, that’s it,’ that’s a great, great sign. More power to him and his competitiveness.”
Zach Logue fired six shutout innings. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Wall used his speed to single handedly generate another run in the seventh inning. He drew a walk against Red Wings reliever Sam Clay, stole second, and went to third on a groundout. He then took a huge lead off third, dancing down the line, causing Clay to balk to bring home the Herd’s fifth run of the game. Buffalo tacked on another run in the eighth on a Richard Ureña RBI double.
Wall finished the game 2-for-2 with a double, walk, sacrifice fly, stolen base, two runs scored, and an RBI. He also threw a runner out at home and scored from first on a single. .
“It's been awesome,” Wall said of the atmosphere in Buffalo. “I'm super thankful. All the guys are. The atmosphere is great. It's bright lights, a loud atmosphere. That's why we play the game. We are super thankful and the fans have been awesome so far.”
Saturday, August 14, 2021: Red Wings 4, Bisons 0
A team scoring runs and winning games like the Bisons had been are eventually going to hit a road bump. That road bump came against Red Wings starter Ben Braymer.
Nate Pearson pitched a scoreless first inning for Buffalo in his first rehab appearance since suffering a sports hernia. He looked dominant, with his fastball clocking in at between 98 and 100 mph.
Nate Pearson was hitting 100 mph on the Sahlen Field radar gun. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“He feels great,” Candale said about Pearson after the game. “I talked to him and he said everything went good – healthy, which is the most important thing. He hit 100 about three times I think, so his arm looks pretty good. He threw some good breaking balls.”
Thomas Hatch took the ball after Pearson and was also impressive. Hatch only allowed five hits over six solid innings. He gave up an unearned run in the third inning and a solo home to Daniel Palka in the sixth.
“I really like where my fastball’s at,” Hatch said. “As a starting pitcher you’ve got to go six or seven innings – 100 pitches. That’s the most important pitch. Being able to command that to all parts of the zone, to both sides of hitters. It’s pretty much the most important thing, and then you can put them away with off-speed.”
“He did a great job,” Candaele said of Hatch. “His fastball had life and the breaking stuff was on point – he threw it where he wanted it.”
Thomas Hatch gave the Herd six solid innings. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Unfortunately, the Bisons managed only five hits in the game. Nick Banks drilled a two-run home run in the ninth to put the game away for Rochester.
“They pitched well,” Candaele said of the Red Wings hurlers. “They did a good job against us. They made the pitches they needed to. We had some opportunities but didn’t come through. That’s part of the game. We played well for four games. We didn’t play poorly (tonight), we made plays, but they did a good job, you’ve just got to give them credit. They did a good job. Braymer did a good job and their relievers came in and shut it down.”
Sunday, August 15, 2021: Bisons 7, Red Wings 1
Casey Lawrence took the mound for the Herd in the final game of the six game series. He hadn’t taken the Sahlen Field mound in 1,565 days. Coincidentally, his last appearance in Buffalo was also against Rochester. Lawrence beat the Red Wings on May 3, 2017, in the second game of a doubleheader. He pitched five innings that day and allowed just one unearned run, earning the win in a 4-1 Bisons victory. Since that time, his career took him to the Seattle Mariners, to Triple-A Tacoma, half way around the world to Hiroshima, Japan, and most recently to Double-A New Hampshire.
Casy Lawrence back at Sahlen Field. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Lawrence got off to a strong start in his return to the Queen City. After retiring the first batter on a groundout, he struck out four batters in a row. He didn’t allow a hit until the third inning, a single to Derek Dietrich, who was quickly erased on a double play.
“I felt at home,” Lawrence said of his return to Sahlen Field. “Being able to step on the grounds again and get back out there. I knew it’d been a little bit. I would say it was calming. It was calming to get back out there on a familiar surface.”
The Bisons took the lead in the third inning, when they sent eight batter to the plate and scored three runs. Kevin Smith’s two-run double and Tyler White’s RBI single highlighted the inning for the Herd.
Smith helped generate another run in the fifth inning when he singled and came around to score when Red Wings starter Luis Reyes issued three consecutive walks. Smith and White were once again in the middle of things in the Bisons three-run eighth-inning rally. Smith lined a double to the left-field wall that brought home two runs, and looked like it brought home a third, but Otto Lopez was called out at the plate. White brought Smith home with a single to center field.
Kevin Smith is having an MVP caliber season. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Smith finished the game 4-for-5 with a double and 4 RBI. His stolen base in the fifth inning made him the first Bison to have at least 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases since Ben Francisco in 2006.
Lawrence ended up working six masterful innings. After Dietrich’s single in the third, he only allowed one more base runner, an infield single to Ali Castillo in the sixth inning. He also fanned seven Red Wings batters. The only run Rochester scored in the game was a solo home run by Jake Noll off rehabbing lefty Tim Mayza in the seventh.
“I think he just did a great job of mixing pitches and using his slider effectively against right-handers and then mixing it in against lefties,” Candaele said of Lawrence’s outing. “I think the biggest part was – before he left and went to Double-A, he talked about how he needed to make some adjustments pitching to left-handed hitters and just watching him today, and watching how he went about his business, he did that. He used his changeup really well and then the high fastball and just spotted the ball really well today. It was an impressive start.”
“It was just mixing and moving,” Lawrence said of what was working for him on the mound. He also praised his catcher, Kelin Deglan: “Degs did a great job of behind the plate with his fingers and moving in and reading swings. He did an absolutely fantastic job back there.”
Bisons catcher Kellin Deglan. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
The Bisons had a three game swing in the standings in their first homestand at Sahlen Field in almost two years. They entered their six-game series with Rochester a game behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After the Herd’s win on Sunday, coupled with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s loss to Lehigh Valley, the Bisons had a two game lead over the Rail Riders.
“Coming back to Buffalo is always a breath of fresh air,” Lawrence said. “The fans are into it. I know the team is excited to be back in town. To be able to win five out of six at home is always big at this part of the season.”