New league. New uniforms. New manager.
The Buffalo Bisons stampeded into the winner's circle Friday, starting the 1998 season with a solid 4-0 win over the Rochester Red Wings at North AmeriCare Park.
The last American Association champions were a smash in their return to the International League after a 28-year absence, winning for the eighth time in 11 NAP openers.
It was a dominant performance akin to many during last year's 87-57 season that included a 51-21 home record.
"You like to write up those kind of games every night," said Jeff Datz, who was victorious in his first game as Buffalo manager. "We have a chance to do that if we perform up to our capabilities."
Steve Karsay pitched eight shutout innings, and Richie Sexson and Torey Lovullo provided all the offense Buffalo would need with solo homers in the fourth inning.
"That was crisp," said Karsay, who allowed six singles and didn't walk a batter. "Guys came out here to play. This clubhouse has a bunch of gamers. Day in and day out, you'll see the same things."
"That was as solid a game as I've been a part of," added Sexson, who belted a modern-era franchise-record 31 home runs last year. "The pitching was outstanding and we didn't have to make a lot of tough plays or dramatic plays. He (Karsay) had it under control the whole time."
The Bisons sold 11,525 tickets for the game, the lowest in stadium history for an opener, and a crowd of about 8,000 was on hand. The team had expected around 18,000 had the game been played as scheduled on Thursday.
The Bisons wanted to keep Karsay under 100 pitches and pulled him after eight innings even though he had thrown only 87. Former Milwaukee and San Diego left-hander Ron Villone pitched a hitless ninth.
Karsay kept Rochester hitters at bay with a good fastball and a sharp curve, rarely falling behind in the count. He was in trouble only in the fourth, when the Red Wings put runners at second and third with one out. He escaped the threat unscathed by getting Scott Lydy to ground out back to the mound and striking out Howie Clark.
"He threw the ball very well, had command of all his pitches and did a nice job of mixing them," Datz said.
"It's great," added Karsay, who struggled through a 3-12 season last year for Oakland and was nosed out of the Cleveland rotation this spring by ex-Bison Bartolo Colon.
The big jam escaped, Buffalo went to work at the plate. Sexson scored the first run of the new IL era by blasting Nerio Rodriguez's 2-1 fastball deep to center, well above the 404-foot marker.
Sexson had swung through a fastball on the previous pitch. He made no mistake on Rodriguez's next offering, another fastball.
"It was almost the same pitch, just a little bit down," Sexson said. "I know he was disappointed after I hit it."
Two batters later, Lovullo cracked another Rodriguez fastball into the bleachers for a 2-0 lead. Buffalo added its third run in the sixth when a double by catcher Einar Diaz (the only Bison with two hits) knocked in Chan Perry. The Bisons closed the scoring in the eighth as Sexson's sacrifice fly drove in David Miller.
The day began with ring ceremonies and banner-raisings to honor the '97 club managed by Brian Graham. Datz & Co. then went right to work charting a new set of memories.Cleveland right-hander Chad Ogea, down on injury rehabilitation assignment, will pitch for Buffalo today when the series shifts to Frontier Field for Rochester's home opener (2:15, Radio 1520). All reserved seats are sold.