On the eve of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” the PawSox offense lacked the requisite killer instinct to reward one of Kevin Millwood’s best starts in his now two-month-old tenure in the organization.
Conversely, the visiting Louisville Bats made like vampire bats the way they exploited the slightest nicks. After each team plated a pair of runs in the third inning, Kristopher Negron scored Chris Valaik on a sixth-inning single to ultimately finalize a 3-2 decision at McCoy Stadium Saturday night.
Bats starter Travis Wood allowed only three hits but authorized 13 total baserunners in five innings of work. At no point on the night did his strike count match or exceed the number of balls as he walked eight PawSox. Yet the hosts could only exploit him for two runs in the third that drew a momentary 2-2 knot.
Meanwhile, Millwood suffered his first loss in 12 starts in Pawtucket attire on a night when he appeared to do everything in his power to redeem a shoddy performance in Buffalo five nights prior. He finished with three earned-runs on eight hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts in 5.2 innings-pitched.
Yet Wood was Saturday’s official victor, Millwood the loser. And all of a sudden, after winning each of Millwood’s first 10 starts, the Sox have lost the last two, half of those decisions going on Millwood’s tab.
The first Bat to hit into the outfield and first player to collect a base hit on the night, Dave Sappelt deposited a one-out single in shallow center to commence the eventful third inning. Felix Perez subsequently stretched a single upon beating centerfielder Che-Hsuan Lin’s throw to second and both men scored on Denis Phipps’ double to deep left.
In the bottom half, with the bases loaded by way of three straight walks, Lars Anderson poked a single to right for Pawtucket’s first hit and first run of the night. Luis Exposito followed up with a sacrifice grounder that scored Hector Luna for the equalizer.
Wood’s exit at the end of the fifth signaled last call for the Sox, who only mustered one hit and two baserunners within the latter four frames. Ronald Bermudez led off the ninth with a single, only to be stranded.
On a night when Louisville’s lefthanded starter saw his command go amiss, the PawSox batters caught on and reaped many bases through patience. Slugger Ryan Lavarnway led the way with three walks in as many face-offs with Wood, only swinging at only two out of a cumulative 17 pitches.
Nate Spears also had no official at-bats in three encounters with Wood. Instead, he accepted a hit-by-pitch in the first and drew a pair of walks in the third and fifth, loading the bases on both occasions.
Meanwhile, Millwood initially appeared to be in danger of throwing a season-high four walks after letting three of his first six challengers on board. Instead, he lassoed enough command to throw a season-high 10 strikeouts and never doled out that fourth base-on-balls.
Millwood’s immediate reliever, Jeremy Kehrt, struck out three of the five batters he faced before yielding to Hideki Okajima with one out in the seventh.
Shortstop Brent Dlugach extended his strikeout streak to seven games-played when he went down swinging in the second inning. He went down again in the third with two outs and the bases loaded, giving him a total of 12 Ks in a span of 24 plate appearances. Two innings later, with the game still in a 2-2 deadlock, he stranded another three teammates with a fly out to right field to end the fifth.
To top off the mortification, Dlugach was Wood’s only strikeout victim on the night.
Manager Arnie Beyeler recorded a rare pair of outstanding blunders Saturday night. In the bottom of the fifth, with Luna aboard second base, the skipper/third base coach proved too eager to nab a 3-2 lead. On Exposito’s single, Luna was thrown out at home when he should have stayed on third.
The subsequent inning, Louisville nabbed that 3-2 upper hand when Beyeler left Millwood on the mound one batter too long. The starter had just cracked a triple-digit pitch count and allowed a pair of two-out singles, one of which had Mike Costanzo sending Valaika all the way to third. Yet Beyeler let Millwood on to helplessly yield the go-around run via Negron’s deciding base hit.
Succeeding Wood to commence the sixth inning, reliever Jerry Gil promptly struck out Bermudez and Luna, matching his colleague’s five-inning total in one stanza alone. He then caught Lavarnway looking and benched Exposito in the seventh to finish with four Ks in two innings-pitched.
In his first visit to McCoy since his 19-game stint with the PawSox last summer, DH Jeremy Hermida struck out swinging in each of his first four plate-appearances.
Daniel Nava pinch hit for Anderson in the bottom of the seventh. With Nava’s insertion, Tony Thomas vacated left field in favor of his usual post at second base for the eighth, thus nudging Nate Spears to third. In turn, Luna shuffled to fill Anderson’s defensive position at first base.
The contesting bullpens combined to allow only two hits while charging up 11 strikeouts.
The PawSox announced the release of playoff tickets Saturday morning. Individual game tickets may be purchased for the same price as any regular-season stub. Or, with the possibility of as many as six postseason home dates, fans may purchase a special six-game pack for $60 per seat.
Boston shortstop Jed Lowrie, out since June 16 with a right shoulder ailment, will reportedly play three rehab games at McCoy at next. His Pawtucket stint will start with the second half of this Louisville series and run through Thursday versus Buffalo.