The late standup comedian and outspoken atheist George Carlin once explained how, instead of a deity, he worshipped the sun. He praised its visibility and its many light- and warmth-induced benefits.
Odds are, at least in the heat of the seventh inning Saturday night, PawSox first baseman Lars Anderson hardly considered Mother Nature’s ceiling light a just and loving sun. The early evening glare was an explanation, if not much of an excuse, for two consecutive errors that both went on Anderson’s tab and put a pair of Buffalo Bisons at the corners with only one out.
But then, the two men who each threw one ball past Anderson to mount the predicament collaborated with their besieged colleague to end the threat in a hurry. Shortstop Alex Valdez retrieved Jesus Feliciano’s grounder and tossed it to second baseman Nate Spears, who cut down runner Valentino Pascucci. In turn, Spears successfully hurled the ball to Anderson for the third out.
That twin kill salvaged a 2-0 Pawtucket lead that was sculpted on Buffalo’s own series of defensive misfortunes in the bottom of the second. With Spears on second base courtesy of a dropped ball by right fielder Fernando Martinez and Hector Luna on third, Valdez hit a routine pop up to first.
Valdez was tagged to end the inning, but not before Buffalo’s Zach Lutz dropped the ball, allowing both runners to score.
Lutz lassoed the ball and threw to shortstop Luis Figueora, denying Valdez extra bases, but the damage was already done in this case. The PawSox had sculpted a 2-0 lead, which they would morph into a 2-0 victory before 8,512 congregants at McCoy Stadium.
Tony Pena Jr., inserted with a certain degree of spontaneity in lieu of the promoted Kyle Weiland, matched a season high with four strikeouts. He benched Buffalo’s DH Pascucci in both encounters and got Luis Hernandez to swing at an 0-2 pitch for the second out of the fifth, proving he was unfazed by Jesus Feliciano hitting the Bisons’ first extra-base hit of the night one play prior.
Equal credit is owed to manager Arnie Beyeler, who knew Pena had to quit while he was ahead. Pena doled out his first walk to Mike Nickeas on a full-count, seventh-pitch ball and was promptly forked out in favor of Tommy Hottovy.
Pena’s final line for the night consisted of five shutout innings and only two hits permitted.
The third baseman Luna was the most outstanding defender working behind Pena’s back. He retrieved all three grounders that came his way within the first four innings and initiated a double-play in the sixth.
On the other side of the ball, Luna splashed a weeklong hitless drought. Entering the night at 0-for-26 in his last seven games-played, he doubled off the left field wall to lead off the second and scored ahead of Valdez’s single.
Daniel Nava, too, cracked his chrysalis a little more. After starting the night 0-for-3, he got one more chance with Che-Hsuan Lin’s two-out walk in the eighth. Nava’s first-pitch single to right sent Lin all the way to third, giving Pawtucket its first runner in scoring position since that fruitful second inning.
Because both of his baserunners were on by way of an error, Hottovy went without allowing a hit in three innings of relief work. He pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and eighth and only allowed one ball to reach the outfield (Michael Fisher’s sixth-inning fly out to Nava in left).
Designated hitter Ryan Lavarnway briefly upped his team-leading batting average from .330 to .337 when he doubled to the warning track in right-center in the first. But he regressed to .326 with a pair of strikeouts for the final outs of the third and sixth, respectively, and a pop fly to second that stranded Nava and Lin in the eighth.
Ronald Bermudez was also easily stifled on Saturday. He struck out in each of his first two at-bats, the first of which left Luna and Spears aboard before Valdez came through. His third time up, in the eighth, Bermudez hit a soft 1-2 grounder to finish the night at 0-for-3.
Valdez, too, endured a pair of Ks, but it’s slightly tougher to label him a stain on a night when he plates two runs.
Immediately after Valdez’s scoring play, Buffalo starter Pat Misch retired 12 consecutive PawSox batters for four straight 1-2-3 stanzas. He prolonged that trend for one more out in the seventh, and then gave way to Miguel Batista. Batista gave the PawSox their first walk of the night with a full-count ball to Lin with two out in the eighth.
Misch endured his second loss this season at McCoy despite a sparkling line of 6.1 innings-pitched, five strikeouts, three hits, and zero earned runs.
Randy Williams required only nine pitches to log a 1-2-3 ninth inning and nab his fourth save of the season.
Spears was making his first appearance back from the seven-day disabled list.
The 2-0 upshot was Pawtucket’s second shutout in four nights, and Pena had a hand in both of them. Saturday night’s starter and winner came in on relatively short rest, having pitched two innings of relief and earned a save in Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory over the host Syracuse Chiefs.
Pena improved his transcript to 7-4 on the year.