During the last week, the Buffalo Bisons grew accustomed with playing games in which the result hung in the balance until the final pitch.
Prior to Sunday, the last seven Bisons' games had been decided by three runs or less, four of them being one-run affairs.
Ramon Ortiz made it tough for the Louisville Bats to push that stretch of close games to eight Sunday afternoon. He pitched eight innings of seven-hit, two-run ball en route to the Herd's 8-2 victory at Coca-Cola Field, splitting the four-game series.
"It's always nice not to have a nail-biter," manager Marty Brown said. "We've been in every game. Tough loss (Saturday), but we're still learning about each other. I know it's great to get off to a nice start like we have, but we're going to have times where we struggle and we need these close games in order to get better."
Ortiz improved to 2-0 with the win, tossing 104 pitches with three strikeouts and a walk. His bid for the first Bisons' nine-inning complete game of the season was cut short when he was lifted in favor of Mickey Storey to start the ninth. The last Bison to pitch nine innings was Josh Stinson on September 6, 2010.
The only two runs given up by Ortiz were solo home runs by Felix Perez and Mike Hessman. Brown noted Ortiz avoiding getting behind in the count overshadowed the long balls.
"That's Ramon," Brown said. "He's going to go through an inning where he's going to be in some trouble and he'll find a way to pitch his way out of it. Good, quality slider (Sunday). … If Ramon gives up solo-shots, so be it."
"The keys for the game (Sunday) was go down away and down inside," Ortiz said. "They swing early. I tried to make good pitches and they swung. That's what we tried to do the whole game."
With Ortiz working quickly throughout the game, Brown felt it was indicative of the 39-year-olds experience.
"Normally we play good defense behind Ramon because of his tempo," Brown said. "Some of the other pitchers could learn from that because tempo sometimes lacks a little bit to be desired."
Buffalo hopped on Louisville early. RBI from Jim Negrych, who was 2 for 2 with two RBIs, and Luis Jimenez gave the first-place Herd a 2-0 lead.
Sloppy defense by the Bats extended the Bisons' lead in the fourth. With Andy LaRoche on first, Ryan Langerhans grounded one to pitcher Daniel Corcino, who turned to throw to second. Instead of it starting an inning-ending double play, Corcino's throw sailed into centerfield.
Denis Phipps fielded the throwing error and promptly followed with another, missing Konrad Schmidt with a throw home that found the backstop. It allowed LaRoche, who had advanced to third on the first error, to score. Langerhans ended up on third as a result of the errors and scored on the ensuing pitch when Eugenio Velez ripped a single to center.
The Bats committed their third error of the inning trying to catch Velez stealing. Schmidt's throw reached Phipps in center, giving Velez third, though he would get no further.
Stellar defense wouldn't have even helped the Bats in the bottom of the sixth. The Bisons batted around the order and broke the game open with a four-run inning.
A pair of singles by Thole and LaRoche to start the inning set up Langerhans' three-run shot to the screen in left field on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. It was the last pitch of Corcino's afternoon, and his replacement, Mike MacDougal, struggled to get out of the inning. He threw nearly 30 pitches to get three outs and allowed three consecutive one-out singles before Negrych's run-scoriong groundout to short made it 8-2.
On Friday and Saturday, Buffalo's bats were quieted in key moments of the game. They stranded 25 runners and went 6 for 29 with runners in scoring position in the middle games of the series.
The International League's best-hitting offense flipped that script and was ignited Sunday, going 3 for 10 in run-scoring situations. The clutch hits proved beneficial to Ortiz and the defense, too.
"I think that's an area of emphasis the last couple days, we left some runners on base," said Langerhans, who also hit a home run in Saturday's game. "… We created a little space in the middle of the game, which was big, letting our pitchers kind of settle in. Ramon did a tremendous job Sunday."
BISONS NOTES: Ortiz was efficient in the first inning, throwing eight pitches, seven for strikes, as the Bats went down in order during the three-minute half inning… Ortiz now has a 2.18 ERA… Langerhans' home run was his team-leading sixth of the season… With a run in the first, Gose has 23 runs, which leads the IL... Moises Sierra missed the game after getting hit in the hand by a pitch in Saturday's game.