It's been a while since we've seen one of these epic stretch drives. The Buffalo Bisons were just 48-52 and 11 games out of first place in the International League North on July 20 after a 3-2 loss at Pawtucket, their seventh in a row. They were tied for fourth in the division -- 1 1/2 games out of the cellar -- and six games out of the wild-card.
After 100 games, usually you are who you are. In this case, the Bisons found another gear and it's produced one of the best playoff pushes in franchise history.
The Herd enters tonight's Fan Appreciation Night showdown against Pawtucket in Coca-Cola Field one game back of the PawSox for the wild-card with eight games left. This is their last head-to-head meeting so a win is pretty much paramount, especially after this afternoon's callup of IL all-star Kevin Pillar.
The Bisons are 16-8 in August and their starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 2.47 for the month -- after the figure was no lower than 4.36 in each of the previous three months. This could be the first time they win 20 in a month since going 23-7 in May, 2005. We don't know how this run will turn out but it's been memorable so far. Here's a look back at the greatest pennant pushes in the franchise's modern era to date:
1991: The Bisons were three games out of first place in the American Association East on Aug. 5 but exploded to go 16-4 in their next 20 to take a 6 1/2-game lead -- a 9 1/2-game turnaround in the standings. They finished August 23-10, one win shy of their record for any month, and won their first division title before losing to Denver in the Association playoffs in five games.
1992: They did the previous August one better by setting the franchise record for wins with an incredible 24-7 record. A 7-0 home loss to Nashville on Aug. 3 capped a 1-5 slump and dropped the Bisons four games out of first. But they roared back to win 10 of their next 11 and were never headed. The playoffs were a disappointment, as the Herd was swept in four games by Oklahoma City.
1998: After winning the final American Association title in 1997, the Bisons had high hopes for their first year back in the International League but all appeared lost in mid-June and 11 1/2 games out of first place in the IL North. The deficit was eight games after a disheartening 17-3 home loss to Pawtucket on Aug. 10 and all looked lost when the team fell into a 4-0 hole in the second inning the next night at first-place Syracuse in the opener of a four-game series.
Then came one of the signature comebacks in franchise history: Second baseman Torey Lovullo aired his teammates out on the mound in the first inning and went on to hit a game-tying homer in the eighth off a top Toronto prospect named Roy Halladay. It was really the night he cemented being a Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer and a future manager.
The Bisons won the game, 6-4, and went on to a four-game sweep. They went on to an 18-9 record in their final 27 games, winning the division by a half-game when Jeff Manto's ninth-inning home run produced an 8-7 win at Scranton in Game 143 and the entire division was rained out of its season finales the next day. And they then went on to win the Governors Cup.
2004: The '03 season ended badly, with the team going 25-40 over its last 65 games. The next year started no better as pitching coach Terry Clark was fired in mid-May. The Bisons opened the month 5-16. On May 22, they were 16-25 and headed for the worst record in the league as they trailed Norfolk, 8-1, in the bottom of the eighth inning. They came back to win that game, 9-8, with a five-run ninth and it started a surge by manager Marty Brown's club that lasted the summer.
The deficit in the IL North grew as high as 9 1/2 games in early June but the team had its best offensive club since the 1930s and pounded the opposition. There were four wins in games in which they trailed by seven runs. By July 23, they were in first place for good and won the division by 10 games. It was a 19 1/2-game turnaround in a span of 2 1/2 months as the Bisons went 67-36. In the playoffs, they beat Durham in a five-game thriller and Richmond in four games to again take the Governors' Cup.