It was a showdown between the top two pitchers in the International League.
The name of the game became not in who could keep hitters off base, but who could keep them from crossing the plate.
There were 23 combined hits in just 5 2/3 innings of play.
And it was the Buffalo Bisons’ Liam Hendriks who was just the little bit better.
Hendriks pitched out of some jams to help the Bisons to a 4-2 win over the Syracuse Chiefs in a game that was called in the sixth inning after heavy rain at Coca-Cola Field.
Hendriks improved to 6-0 with his earned run average moving to 2.02 after giving up two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.
The Chiefs racked up nine hits against Hendriks, putting runners in scoring position in the third and fourth innings. But Hendriks made his pitches count and the defense picked up ground-ball outs to mitigate the damage.
“I didn’t pitch well enough to keep them off the bases but when they got on, I turned it up a little bit and was able to get out of it most of the time,” Hendriks said.
“I don’t think it was his best stuff but what he’s shown he can do is battle out of tough situations,” catcher Mike Nickeas said. “He makes clutch pitches and the way he threw inside today was really the key especially with a very good hitting team. They have some power and I think he was able to make them uncomfortable. His misses were effective misses so he could set up other things in at-bats.”
Hendriks gave up a one-out triple in the second to Destin Hood who scored on a Jhonatan Solano single. With runners on first and second and two outs, Hendriks drew a slow grounder back to the mound, which he tossed over to first base to end the inning and keep it just a 1-0 deficit.
The leadoff batter in the third advanced to second, but he got the next three batters out on a fly, grounder and strike out.
In the fourth a pair of hits and a wild pitch put runners and second and third, but again, Hendriks got a ground out to short to end the inning.
His counterpart Taylor Hill also pitched effectively to keep the score low. Hill, who came into the game with the International League’s best ERA (1.91) and eight wins, gave up 14 hits to the Bisons. But the Herd went just 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position as Hill pitched himself out of a few trouble spots.
“It’s one of those weird things where you think no one’s going to get a hit and then everyone was getting hits,” Nickeas said. “We had two really good pitchers out there today.”
“It was interesting how many hits there were for both sides,” manager Gary Allenson said. “We had 14 hits. Coulda had seven runs but their guy did a pretty good job of working out of a couple of jams.”
Allenson would have liked a few more runs for all those hits, but the Bisons got enough to get the win and split the two-game series with the Chiefs.
Brad Glenn tied the game for the Herd in the fourth, leading off with a crushing home run to center field. With two outs, Nickeas homered to give the Herd a 2-1 lead.
The lead extended to 4-1 in the fifth. A.J. Jimenez had a one-out RBI single while Nickeas had his third hit of the day to drive in his second run.
In the top of the sixth, Hendriks gave up back-to-back singles. He got out of it as the defense turned a solid double play. With two outs and Brock Peterson on third, Hendriks tried to bare hand a hit from Brian Goodwin, but he missed the ball. Goedert charged in from third to pick up the ball and tried to make the play at first, but the throw was late and Peterson scored.
That cut the Bisons’ lead to 4-2 with a runner on base and two outs as the rain came pouring down and the tarp rolled out.
After a one hour and three minute rain delay, the game was called and the Herd picked up the win.
“You know it’s going to be a tough game,” Hendriks said. Hill is “one of the best pitchers in the league and he’s done well so far. … We went out there, and the offense did a great job. They put good swings out there. We had an abnormal amount of hits. To do it against a quality pitcher like that is tough to do and a tribute to our offense today.”