SYRACUSE – They weren’t going down without a fight.
They found themselves in a 3-0 hole early against a finesse pitcher who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
The Buffalo Bisons rallied. The bullpen was outstanding. The offense came around and the Herd found themselves in a tie ball game in the ninth inning.
But the first pitch Destin Hood saw in the ninth he drilled to left field. The home run gave the Chiefs a 4-3 walk-off win and eliminated the Bisons from the International League wild-card race.
Syracuse came into the game having clinched the IL North Division on Saturday.
It was the latest playoff push for the Bisons since 2007, when the Herd was also eliminated on the second-last day of the regular season. It took until Game 142 for the Bisons to be out of the race, giving many of the younger players their first taste of meaningful August baseball.
“I’ve never been a part of a playoff push this late in the season,” said Brett Wallace, who joined the Herd in July as part of a Toronto Blue Jays trade with the Baltimore Orioles. “It was fun playing in games with a great atmosphere with a lot of meaning to it. We gave it everything we had. We came up a game short, but I think we can all walk out with our heads high knowing we gave everything we had. We pushed to the very end.”
They pushed to the very end of Sunday’s game after a frustrating first six innings.
While Buffalo starter Raul Valdes was knocked around in the first three innings, tagged for three Syracuse runs on five hits (four doubles), the Herd failed to find any punch against Paolo Espino.
The 27-year-old Espino has pitched four seasons in Triple-A but was making his first start for the Chiefs this season on Sunday.
He retired the first 15 batters he faced. Ryan Goins got on base on an error by second baseman Jeff Kobernus to lead off the sixth. But A.J. Jimenez grounded into a double play and Espino finished six innings facing the minimum.
The Herd finally got a hit in the seventh – a leadoff single by Dalton Pompey. A one-out walk to Cole Gillespie set the scene for Wallace, who drove in the first run for the Herd on a double.
Characteristic of the Bisons’ clubhouse, Wallace credited his teammates for setting him up.
“It was a team effort. The guy in front of me got on base and it forced him back into the zone to throw to me,” Wallace said. “We feed off each other so those guys get on base in front of me, give me an opportunity and the pitcher throws around the plate because he doesn’t want to load the bases. The whole team puts us in that situation.”
The rally continued as Pompey had an RBI double in the eighth to cut the lead to 3-2.
In the ninth, Gillespie and Wallace had back-to-back singles and a hit by Matt Hague tied the game.
But the momentum came to a crashing halt with one swing by Hood that ended the game and the Bisons’ playoff hopes. It was the first run allowed by reliever Colt Hynes in 8∏ innings since he joined the Bisons on Aug. 15.
“I thought for sure we were going to go extra innings for the 18th time this year,” manager Gary Allenson said.
“It would have been par for the course. … Hynes … has been outstanding since we got him. I’m proud of these guys. They battle hard.
“It just wasn’t meant to be, obviously.”
The Bisons, with a record of 76-66, will finish out the season with a 2 p.m. game today here against the Chiefs. Scott Copeland (2-1, 2.00) gets the start for Buffalo against ex Bison Aaron Laffey (12-5, 3.40 ERA).