By Brandon Schlager firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Jose Reyes is just happy to be back.
He sprinted out to his familiar post between second and third base to take the field for the first inning, never more excited to snag a few grounders. Before the game, he took part in the position player’s signal meeting, something generally optional for a player of his stature.
So, after planting and throwing a rocket to Luis Jimenez at first base to finish off a game-ending 1-6-3 double play and a 3-2 Buffalo Bisons win over the Durham Bulls, it’s no surprise that Reyes turned and celebrated with second baseman Ryan Goins like he was a 19-year-old rookie all over again.
Reyes’ talent was expected to boost the slumping Buffalo Bisons during his three-game rehab stint. Friday night, the Toronto Blue Jays star showed the 13,169 fans at Coca-Cola Field that his simple presence, the energy that he brings to the Bisons, is where his true value lies.
“Well (Munenori) Kawasaki hit a home run tonight, so (the Blue Jays) might want to hold off on that and keep him here for a few weeks,” Buffalo manager Marty Brown joked with the media following the game. “It’s always a positive to have a player like Jose. Not only just his status and what he’s achieved so far in his career, but to just have him here for any amount of time is a positive.
“For three days he’s here to help us win and that’s what he did today.”
Reyes, 30, started at shortstop and led off for the Bisons. He made several plays in the field, showing that his recovery from a severe ankle sprain on April 12 is nearly complete.
The four-time Major League Baseball All-Star and 2011 National League batting champion appears to be feeling like his old self and having fun — great news for the surging Blue Jays, but bad for the rest of the American League East trying to hold off MLB’s hottest club.
“This is what I love to do, and I wasn’t able to do this for a long time,” Reyes said. “Now I’m able to do what I do best — play baseball. I like to enjoy the game the most that I can.”
The Bisons found themselves trailing by a run in the fifth inning when Sean Ochinko led off with a single. Reyes followed with a double to the right field wall, and with runners on first and second, Kevin Pillar, in his Triple-A debut, smoked a hard line drive into the left-center gap, scoring two and to put the Bisons ahead, 3-2.
Thad Weber then pitched out of trouble in the sixth inning and would exit after that, surrendering seven hits and two runs, one earned, with five strikeouts over six innings.
The bullpen held the ground from there until the Bulls put two on in the top of the ninth, when reliever Brad Lincoln snagged a sharp liner back to the mound to begin the double play that would retire Durham for good.
Weber earned the win and Pillar went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI
It was the first minor league save for Brad Lincoln and the first win for the Bisons over Durham after being swept by the Bulls in a four-game set earlier this season.
“I was able to do a little bit of everything,” Reyes said. “My ankle feels good … I made it through nine for first time in months. I’m just happy to go nine innings today, first time in a long time.”
Reyes will be back at shortstop today when Buffalo and Durham play Game 2 of the four-game set tonight. Six-hundred tickets remain for the Bisons’ popular Star Wars Night promotion, with 600 tickets remaining after the final out last night.
Bisons Notebook: Wilson product Steve Geltz made another return to the area with Durham. … Center fielder Anthony Gose sat out his second straight game after committing a pair of costly errors earlier in the week. Brown said Gose will rejoin the lineup tonight … With Gose out of the lineup, the Bisons recalled outfielder Kevin Pillar, who made his Triple-A debut slotted directly behind Reyes in the batting order. … Ryan Langerhans was released to make room on the roster.Follow contributing sports reporter Brandon Schlager on Twitter @B_Schlag.