Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — The Buffalo Bisons ended their 2013 regular season home schedule Thursday night with some lively fireworks, both literally and figuratively.
The figurative blasts came in the form of Buffalo's eighth inning comeback, during which the Herd used a two-run homer and ground rule double to erase an 0-2 deficit, on their way to a 3-2 win over the Rochester Red Wings at Coca Cola Field.
The actual postgame fireworks capped off a night during which 16,998 fans celebrated not only the win but also the mid-game announcement that the Bisons and major league affiliate Toronto Blue Jays have extended their partnership through the end of the 2016 season.
Heading into the late stages, though, it seemed more like the fans would be mourning the official elimination of the Bisons from postseason contention. Rochester's Eduardo Escobar broke a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth inning with a solo home run that represented the only hit given up by starting Bisons pitcher Sean Nolin, who also struck out five batters in 5 2/3 innings.
"It was tough to let up," said Nolin after the game. "The hit was all right, but to make it the home run and for them to go up 1-0 kind of got to me a little."
Nolin left the game after the home run but ended up without a decision. His counterpart, Cole De Vries, also left the game without a decision after limiting the Bisons to just two hits in seven innings.
Rochester added a run in the top of the eighth and it looked like Buffalo's countdown to playoff elimination was on. Then came the comeback in the bottom of the inning.
After Brad Glenn struck out, Jim Negrych walked to get on base. That's when Luis Jiminez entered the game as a pinch hitter and hit deep over the right field fence and party patio into the parking lot behind the stadium, tying the game at 2-2.
Buffalo wasn't done. Blake Gailen later doubled, followed by Mauro Gomez whose ground rule double over the right field wall brought Gailen home with the go-ahead run.
Buffalo sent Jeremy Jeffress to the mound in the top of the ninth. He struck out all three batters he faced, along the way bringing the fans to their feet in anticipation of the game's final out.
"It was hard to see us go down 2-0," said Bisons manager Marty Brown. "Really, offensively we did very little off their starter, with the exception of LaRoche hitting a double (in the second inning). It was nice to see us finish strong, that was the big thing."
The Bisons remain alive, though barely, in the race for the International League playoffs. With four games remaining, they trail the current Wild Card holders the Norfolk Tides by 3 1/2 games. Norfolk lost to Charlotte on Thursday, 2-0. Buffalo must win its next four games outright, coupled with collapses by Norfolk, Rochester and Lehigh Valley.
Buffalo and Rochester open a two-game series at Frontier Field tonight at 7:15 p.m.
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The Bisons had fans cheering midway through the game when it was revealed by a live public address announcement that they and the Toronto Blue Jays added two more years to their professional development deal, extending the partnership with the American League club through the 2016 season.
Both Bisons and Blue Jays executives had nothing but praise for the relationship so far.
"We're not used to something this good," said Blue Jays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos to reporters during a mid-game news conference. "Even when you walk into the clubhouse just before the game, you keep reminding yourself this is a minor league clubhouse but there are so many big league components to it."
While injuries and call-ups to Toronto depleted the Bisons of several key players this month, Bisons management noted that the Blue Jays have been helpful in finding and promoting talent to keep the Buffalo roster competitive.
There's also been the enjoyment by Bisons staff and fans of watching those said call-ups play key roles for the parent club, especially this past week against the New York Yankees.
"I think the other day there were five Bisons in the lineup playing against the Yankees," said Bisons Vice President and General Manager Mike Buczkowski. "I know our fans got a kick out that too, being able to watch and seeing the players play.
"Just talking to our fans, a number of them hadn't been to Toronto in a long time, hadn't been to Rogers Centre in a long time, that now had another reason to go back, rediscover Toronto and see the players that started and developed here. Hopefully that part of the partnership is going to keep growing."