It was a fantastic start for Claudio Vargas. He retired the first 10 batters he faced with four strikeouts.
Then things started to get away from him.
And while the Buffalo Bisons rallied in the eighth, it wasn’t enough against a solid Indianapolis staff as the Indians hung on for a 6-5 win over the Herd before 6,090 at Coca-Cola Field Friday.
Vargas sat down the first 10 batters, then gave up a double off the centerfield wall to Alex Presley in the fourth. Then he surrendered a two-out, two-run home run to Matt Hague to break the scoreless tie.
The Herd responded in the bottom of the inning as starter Kris Johnson gave up a one-out single and then walked Mauro Gomez on four pitches. Andy LaRoche doubled to the gap in left center to cut the lead to 2-1. Gomez scored from third on a wild pitch from Johnson to tie the game.
In the sixth inning, Indianapolis surged ahead thanks to a lead-off walk and stolen base by Presley to work himself into scoring position. An RBI double from Hague gave the Indians a 3-2 lead. With the bases loaded, Vargas walked in a run to make it 4-2, ending Vargas’ outing.
Dustin McGowan didn’t fare much better in relief, giving up a bases-loaded single then an RBI groundout. By the end of the inning, the Indians had a 6-2 lead.
Vargas took the loss, his fourth in his last five starts, giving up all six runs on four hits with four walks in 5∑ innings.
“When we need a shutdown inning, we struggle with that,” Bisons manager Marty Brown said. “It’s a situation where you just want to go out there and be aggressive ... it is a little bit about focus and it’s about thinking about the pitch. You can’t get three outs with one pitch. So I think that’s the thing. The concentration has to get back to one pitch and make sure you execute a pitch at a time.”
In the eighth two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Ryan Langerhans drew a pinch-hit walk to bring in a run and cut the lead to 6-3.
Josh Thole came off the bench to pinch hit next and delivered a single up the middle which scored two runs and brought the Herd within one. With runners on the corners, Mike McCoy struck out to end the rally.
“They’ve got good arms,” Brown said of the Indianapolis bullpen. “They’re not scared to tell you from their dugout either. Right now, they’re feeling real good about themselves and I was proud of the way our guys battled to get something going in that inning.”
In the seventh inning with no outs, a runner on second and a full count, Felix Pie stepped out of the batter’s box. He reacted to something said to him from the Bisons’ dugout and started to angrily walk over. That’s when the teams spilled out of their respective dugouts.
There was a lot of talking and holding back but at the end of the scrum only Pie was ejected.
The series continues this afternoon (1:05 p.m., 1520) with a potential future big league pitching matchup.
The scheduled starter for Indianapolis is Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011. He spent last year moving through the Pirates system, playing in Class-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona before making one start with Indianapolis. The 22-year-old top prospect is 3-2 with the Indians this season with an ERA of 3.75.
For the Herd, righty Josh Johnson will start as his Major League injury rehabilitation assignment continues.
The 29-year-old has been on the disabled list since April 29 with right triceps inflammation. In four starts with Toronto earlier this season, Johnson is 0-1 with an 8.86 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 19 innings of work.
Johnson, a two-time National League All-Star, was part of the 12-player deal between Toronto and the Miami Marlins. He won 15 games with the Marlins in 2009 and 11 in 2010.
Today’s game is “Dog Day at the Ballpark” where fans may bring their dogs to Coca-Cola Field. Dogs will be allowed in the pavilion area, on the right-centerfield berm and in the last two sections of the first-base side seating (Sections 126 and 128). Dogs and their owners are invited to be part of the Dog Parade, which will begin at the right-centerfield gate and proceed around the entire warning track before the game.
Leading the parade will be Phoenix, the Jack Russell terrier who was burned and abused by teenagers last fall.