For all the runs and hits – and wins – that marked the Buffalo Bisons’ incredible first month as a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, perhaps the signature image was manager Marty Brown being paraded around the clubhouse Sunday in Rochester in a shopping cart.
Brown had just won his 254th game as the Bisons’ manager to break the franchise record. Of course, none of these players were involved in the first 238 from 2003-05 when Buffalo was a Cleveland affiliate.
But the fact they dumped Brown in the laundry cart, pushed him in the showers and doused him in beer in celebration is a good vignette to show how quickly this team, largely a collection of minor-league free agents, has developed on and off the field.
“It’s nice to see these guys appreciate it,” Brown said this week. “I told them I’ve just outlasted everybody else. It’s a good group. They’re here to play. They’re not worried about Toronto, the past. They’re just in the moment.
“The staff tells them not to think about outside factors like what’s going on in Blue Jay land. Take care of things here and good things will happen.”
Plenty of good things happened in April for the Bisons, as they set a franchise record for wins in the month by going 17-7. They return to Coca-Cola Field tonight at 7 in the opener of an eight-game homestand against the Louisville Bats (Radio 1520 AM).
The Bisons had not been 10 or more games over .500 in a month since going 23-7 in May, 2005. In four years with the New York Mets, they were never more than six games over in any month.
“We all have a great amount of respect for Marty,” second baseman Jim Negrych said. “I don’t know if you could have put a better guy for this group, a little bit older group of guys but we have a laid-back group. When it comes to playing the game. When that umpire says, ‘Play ball,’ we can flip a switch and it’s game mode. And that’s exactly the way Marty is. He keeps it loose in the dugout and we really respect him.
“The Bisons brand has been so big the last 20 or so years in the International League and to have him break a record for wins is a high accomplishment for a manager.”
Said pitcher Dave Bush: “Those kind of things in the minor leagues usually go unnoticed but as players we tried to take notice of that. He’s had some good teams in Buffalo in the past and we’re glad to be part of it. I’m sure it meant more to him than he’ll let on but we tried to recognize that for his sake.”
The Bisons have gotten plenty of recognition so far, and not just from that XBox-like, 27-9 win April 18 at Syracuse that was the highest-scoring game by an IL team since at least 1972.
They’re leading the IL in virtually every offensive category and their .305 team batting average was their highest for any month since 2004. Negrych, the St. Francis product, continues to lead the league in batting (.429), slugging (.683) and OBP (.486).
Luis Jimenez is the leader in RBIs (26), is fourth in average (.373), second in slugging (.653) and tied for third in home runs (five). Top outfield prospects Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra are flourishing, with Sierra 17 for 35 in his last 10 games and leading IL right-handed hitters at .389 and Gose leading the league in runs (22).
“I feel like we can put together a rally at any time,” shortstop Ryan Goins said. “First inning to last inning, 1-9, everybody has a good approach and seems to be swinging the bat well. It’s been fun, to say the least.”
Added catcher Josh Thole: “Sometimes there’s nowhere to go with all the hot bats. With the hot bats, it’s tough to pitch around.”
Negrych, who hit nearly .400 in big-league spring training, has never cooled off and pushed .500 much of April. He said the lineup is making it hugely easier for him to thrive in the best run of his professional career.
“With the guys we have in this lineup you’re going to get pitches to hit when you’re at the plate,” he said. “They don’t want to put me on so they have to deal with Gose. They don’t want to put Gose on so they have to deal with Sierra. They don’t want to put Sierra on so they have to deal with Jiminez or [Mauro] Gomez. It’s everywhere down the lineup.”
The Bisons are 11-3 on the road thus far and have struggled with brutal home weather that has already led to five postponements.
The weather here is finally heating up and that could be a boon for their offense downtown.
“Hopefully we can keep it going. You know how it is,” said Thole, an alum of the 2010 Bisons who had a strong start but were riddled by callups and were under .500 for the final three months. “Anything can change at any time. We’ve got to ride it as much as you can right now. It’s been great.”
Tonight’s starting pitcher for Louisville is scheduled to be Armando Galarraga, the former Detroit Tigers hurler who was robbed of a perfect game in 2010 by the infamous blown call of the 27th out by first-base umpire Jim Joyce. Galarraga is 1-1, 1.40 in four starts for the Bats. Claudio Vargas (3-0, 2.35) goes for Buffalo.
The Louisville lineup includes IL stolen base leader Billy Hamilton, the 22-year-old center fielder who set the all-time professional baseball record with 155 steals last year between Class A and Double-A. Hamilton has 15 steals this season but is batting just .205.
Charting the Bisons’ season to date
Record: 17-7 (Home 6-4, Road 11-3)
Batting average: .305 (1st in IL)
Runs: 140 (T-2nd)
Runs per game: 5.8 (1st)
Home Runs: 27 (1st)
Slugging: .480 (1st)
On-Base: .380 (1st)
ERA: 3.94 (8th)
BB allowed: 79 (2nd)
Batting average**: Jim Negrych .429 (1st), Moises Sierra .389 (2nd), Luis Jimenez .373 (4th).
RBIs: Jimenez 26 (1st)
HRs: Jimenez 5 (T-5th)
Runs: Anthony Gose 22 (1st), Negrych 18 (3rd)
Slugging: Negrych .683 (1st), Jimenez .653 (2nd), Mauro Gomez .614 (5th)
On-Base: Negrych .486 (1st), Jimenez .440 (4th), Sierra .430 (5th)
Saves: Neil Wagner 7 (3rd)
** Josh Thole is one plate appearance shy of qualifying at .379 (3rd)