It's hard to imagine a season opener going any better.
The Buffalo Bisons were true to their preseason scouting report Thursday afternoon as they clubbed the Omaha Royals, 8-1, at Pilot Field.
This team won't resemble the offensive juggernaut of last year's 130-home run outfit. What it does have is some quality hitters, a deep pitching staff and a dependable defense.
Those facets came to the forefront before a sellout crowd of 21,050.
"I thought we'd be OK, but there may be a chance we have more pop in our lineup than people think, including me," said Herd manager Doc Edwards. "You can't judge anything on one game, but the thing I like about this club is we have a bunch of guys who play hard, who get down and dirty."
Every player in the lineup had at least one hit, as the Herd collected 12.
Designated hitter Russ Morman had the key blow -- a two-out, three-run double to right-center in the third that gave the Bisons a 5-0 stranglehold.
Second baseman Dave Rohde went 3 for 3, while left fielder Scott Bullett had a two-run double in the eighth -- one of Buffalo's six doubles.
Morman's hit off Omaha starter Chris Haney keyed a four-run inning and provided a cushion for starter Roy Smith, who pitched five quality innings and got help from three relievers.
It was an emotional return for Smith, who has been out of baseball since being released by the Baltimore organization after the 1991 season.
"Once we got the lead, it was a lot easier," said Smith, who gave up a run on three hits. "I didn't have the touch on my curveball like I can, but once you get a lead like that, you're trying to make them beat you."
Smith had the Royals off-balance but began to struggle in the fifth when Terry Shumpert doubled, stole third and scored the Omaha run on David Howard's groundout. The inning ended only when Bullett made a diving catch of Kevin Long's liner.
Edwards knew Smith, who pitched for him in Triple A from 1983-1985, was working on an empty tank.
"I know Roy like a book," Edwards said. "He doesn't have to come to me to say he's tired. He was done at that point. He hit that concrete wall. I saw the gray from the wall on his lip."
"There's one thing I learned from playing with Bert Blyleven (for the Minnesota Twins)," Smith said. "He used to say that there were games he threw 130 pitches and felt fresh as like when he started and games where he threw 90 and felt spent. Today was a little bit emotional for me, and I ran out of gas."
No problem. In came the bullpen.
Tony Menendez, 28, who pitched in Nashville last year, went two shutout innings.
Left-hander Brian Shouse pitched a shutout eighth, getting help when Bob Hamelin's drive with two on died at the right-field warning track, and another Triple-A rookie, Mike Zimmerman, blanked the Royals in the ninth after yielding hits to the first two batters he faced.
"Doc had a pretty good game plan about getting the young kids in once we got ahead," said pitching coach Tom Dettore. "They got their christening.
"They came from a place (Double-A Carolina) where they usually pitched in front of a couple thousand people. Now they're at a place with 21,000, and they're thinking, 'Man, this is pretty nice. I better do good to stay.' So everything is going through their mind except what you want, and that's just being loose and going after people. That might have had a bearing on them, but they still did a great job."
Zimmerman closed the game by beating Howard to the first-base bag and taking a throw from Rohde after first baseman Ben Shelton missed Howard's grounder diving to his right.
"We have the type of club that can't make mistakes on the field," Edwards said. "We have to do the fundamental things -- field well and pitch -- to stay in the game. If it pans out we have more pop than we think, we'll have an even better ballclub."
The Buffalo pitching staff can only hope it gets that kind of support on a regular basis this season."It was a real thrill," Smith said. "It was a beautiful day, something I'll remember for a long time."