The Gwinnett Braves were hoping Barbara Canizares could turn the tide on an otherwise sluggish offensive night at the plate Thursday at Gwinnett Stadium.
Trailing 2-0 to the Buffalo Bisons in the third inning, Canizares stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two out.
The Triple-A G-Braves (41-34) had to like their chances in that particular situation. Canizares, Gwinnett’s leading every day hitter with a .300 average, was hitting 12-for-26 up to against Buffalo (25-45), the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.
So with two strikes in the count and the bases full, Canizares managed to foul off three consecutive pitches, before looking at strike three on the outside corner for the innings final out, as the G-Braves eventually fell to Buffalo 5-1.
That third inning was the G-Braves best chance offensively all night against Buffalo starter Jonathon Niese, who entered the game having not allowed an earned run in his previous 18 2/3 innings.
"That was definitely the turning point in the game in the third inning," G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. "We squandered a chance to get some runs off a pitcher who’s been hot lately.
"This wasn’t our best game tonight by any stretch."
The G-Braves had the opportunity to take first place in the International League South division, for the first time since the second game of the regular season, as a result of Norfolk’s (40-32) 7-4 loss to Pawtucket earlier on Thursday. With the loss, the G-Braves remain 1/2 game back of the Norfolk Tides in the league standings.
After Niese faced the minimum the first two innings, the G-Braves loaded the bases in the third inning with a lead off walk from catcher Alvin Colina, double by left fielder Antonio Perez down the third base line, then a two out walk from third baseman Wes Timmons (2-for-3, walk).
With his first inning single, Timmons extended his streak to 22 games reaching base.
Meanwhile, Buffalo struck with its first opportunity, plating two runs in the first innings. Chip Ambres drove in a run with a single in the first for Buffalo, then Michel Abreu plated another run when he reached on a fielder’s choice. G-Braves second baseman Brooks Conrad kept any more runs from scoring with a leaping catch as he turned toward right field with two on base and two outs.
The Bisons left seven runners on base in the first three innings, limiting G-Braves starter
Jeff Lyman’s runs allowed at four, in only his second start since getting the callup from Double-A Mississippi. He allowed four runs, four hits and seven walks over three innings.
"It was clear from the start that he didn’t have it tonight," Brundage added. "The thing is we’re short on pitching right now, and we just tried to squeeze one extra inning out of him in the fourth and it just didn’t happen.
In relief, Mariano Gomez helped the G-Braves out of a jam in the fourth inning, thanks to two nice plays on the infield.
Leadoff hitter Corey Sullivan singled and Jesus Feliciano singled against Lyman, before Gomez set down the next three Buffalo hitters in order. The first nice defensive play came on a diving stop and put out by Timmons at third, followed immediately by a similar play in the hole by short stop Chris Burke.
Gwinnett scored in the seventh inning with an RBI off the bat of Colina scoring Burke. Brian Barton (2-for-3) had a double in the seventh for the G-Braves.
Feliciano and Luis Rivera each led Buffalo with a pair of hits and one RBI each. Niese earned the win for the Bisons with six innings pitched, seven strikeouts, two walks allowed and was credited for the earned run on Colina’s RBI.
Gwinnett plays host to Buffalo in the final game of the four-game series at 7 p.m. tonight at Gwinnett Stadium. Tonight’s promotion is an appearance from the famous San Diego Chicken mascot.