As they continued to nudge their way up to the summit of the International League’s North Division and wild card leaderboard, the PawSox repeatedly looked down and dangled victory in front of the basement-bound Rochester Red Wings. They might as well have been daredevil mountain climbers taunting a starved, frustrated puma with a savory cut of meat from close range.
But after spilling two leads, and briefly trailing, Pawtucket salvaged a 6-5 victory at McCoy Stadium Thursday night. The win briefly ties them with Durham (identical 43-36 record) for first in the wild-card standings with the Bulls still engaging the Charlotte Knights in Part II of their double-header.
Keeping with the nightlong motif, Michael Bowden curtained his second save in as many nights in a nail-biting manner. Rochester leadoff man Jair Fernandez walked, then advanced to second and third on a pair of sacrifice grounders, only to be stranded on Jeff Bailey’s 1-2-3 strikeout.
Daniel Nava put his wheels to good use in the third inning, stealing second base and hustling home from there on catcher Ryan Lavarnway’s single to grant Pawtucket a 3-0 advantage.
Lavarnway (3-for-4, two RBIs, one run) would execute two more crucial plays, one from each side of the plate. He thwarted Chase Lambin’s stealing attempt to end a brutal top half of the fourth, then homered to left-center to draw a 4-4 knot in the fifth.
Not to be left out, Hector Luna nailed two extra-base hits on the night, including a solo shot that broke the said 4-4 tie.
While safeguarding the 5-4 lead, relief pitcher Tommy Hottovoy bailed himself out of the seventh after yielding a no-outs single to Steve Singleton and walk to Jair Fernandez. After retiring Toby Gardenhire, he snagged Brandon Roberts’ grounder and relayed it back to shortstop Jose Iglesias to initiate an inning-ending double-play.
On board via a one-out walk in the eighth, Iglesias opportunistically stole second and third base, then scored on Anthony Slama’s wild pitch to make it 6-5, Pawtucket’s third lead of the night.
On the day he was declared Pawtucket’s only ambassador to this year’s Triple-A All-Star Game, starting pitcher Matt Fox was good for as long as he would need to be in a midsummer exhibition. He breezed through the first three innings with two strikeouts and only two baserunners.
But then, with a 3-0 lead going into the fourth, Fox authorized six consecutive baserunners before he could register the inning’s first out, which happened to be a sacrifice fly by Steve Singleton that gave the Red Wings a 4-3 edge.
Fox had no one to blame but himself for the preceding equalizer, which came by way of wild pitch when both Brian Dinkelman and Aaron Bates were in scoring position. By then, he had that on his tab along with two walks, two extra-base hits, and a throwing error all within the same inning.
Fox gave way to Hottovoy to commence the sixth. But after Hottovoy hit the showers, Hideki Okajima –who would ultimately claim credit for the win- denied himself an easy eighth and surrendered three consecutive two-out singles, the last of which had Lambin driving Bates home from second for a 5-5 game.
Elsewhere, designated hitter Luis Exposito failed to stretch a single into a double when leading off the home half of the fourth. He was likely sopped up in the aftermath of the defensive disaster in the top of that inning, thus overeager to help Pawtucket pull even.
As a team, the Sox demonstrated a startling failure to click “confirm” when could have swollen their lead much further. Pawtucket stranded nine runners within the first four innings alone and 21 total on the night. No case was more egregious than the seventh, when they loaded the bases with nobody out, only to leave everyone hanging and still with a mere 5-4 edge.
Red Wings notes
Centerfielder Dustin Martin was the jutting nuisance for Fox and the PawSox defense in the early phases of the evening. First he singled for Rochester’s only hit within the first three innings. Then on his second trip to the plate, he drove in his team’s first run while reaching safely on Fox’s throwing error and drew five pick-off attempts during Bates’ subsequent at-bat.
After Bates walked on a 3-2 ball, Martin scored from second on Dinkelman’s double with still nobody out in the fourth.
Right fielder Trevor Plouffe was ejected in the middle of the fifth after striking out for the second time in the game. He was replaced by Bailey, who whiffed himself in the top of the ninth to end the game.