Through at least the first five innings Sunday afternoon, no participating parties governed the ball better than the PawSox batting brigade. While the visiting Buffalo Bisons only managed to lob three of Fox’s 97 offerings beyond the infield, Pawtucket hit 12 of Buffalo starter Dylan Owen’s pitches over the outfield grass.
Designated hitter Ryan Lavarnway stood out with a first-inning double and home runs in the fourth and fifth. His second blast, a two-out catapult to left-center that brought Matt Sheely home from first base, ultimately spelled the difference in a tense 4-3 triumph before 8,733 fans at McCoy Stadium.
The said tension emerged almost in the immediate afterglow of Lavarnway’s second dinger. And it wouldn’t let up until Sheely ensnared Valentino Pascucci’s liner between shallow and deep right-center field for the final out.
Starter Matt Fox finally garnered his first win since May 15, allowing him to shed a personal nine-game winless skid off his conscience before going to the All-Star Game in Salt Lake. His only outstanding glitch was an RBI single authorized to Jesus Feliciano, which sent former PawSox slugger Bubba Bell home from second and cut a 2-0 lead in half in the fifth.
But when Fox gave way to Jason Rice, having just pelted Fernando Martinez with one out in the sixth, Buffalo’s offense perked up. Martinez advanced to second on Pascucci’s single, and then scored on Jason Botts’ double with still only one away. Pascucci subsequently brought the Bisons to within a run with the help of Luis Hernandez’s sacrifice fly.
Once in each of the next three innings, the Bisons put a runner in scoring position. And by day’s end, they had dished the ball into the outfield as many times as their hosts (14 each).
But the PawSox, who reaped their second run through Hector Luna’s solo shot in the fourth, held fort to sweep this two-game series and improve to a season-best nine games above the .500 fence at 50-41.
Fox could have stood to cut down on the balls (44 total). Other than that, it’s tough to argue with his bushel of seven strikeouts. Most impressively, he benched Buffalo’s No. 3 hitter, Zach Lutz, in all three of their encounters.
Besides Lavarnway, several Pawtucket hitters flexed conspicuous power at the plate, even if some didn’t translate theirs to the scoresheet as much.
Che-Hsuan Lin and Daniel Nava both went hitless, but nonetheless belted two eventual flyouts apiece to the warning track. Luna hit an assertive liner to left (though it was snagged by Jason Botts) to go along with his homer. And Brent Dlugach pushed a deep liner in the second before singling in the fourth immediately after high-fiving Luna at the plate.
Dlugach also stood out at shortstop on Sunday, having a hand in four straight inning-ending plays. Between the fifth and the eighth inning, Dlugach’s work forced the Bisons to strand a cumulative eight runners, preventing them from ever usurping the lead or even deleting the entire deficit. And he just missed ending the ninth inning when Lutz kept the game going with a rolling single to left.
Rice pushed Pawtucket’s luck more times than the average rooter could likely handle. In each of three innings, he let the Bisons hit three balls into the outfield, amounting to a cumulative five hits on his tab. That included two doubles and four runners reaching scoring position. The first two, Fernando Martinez and Pasucci, both made it home in the sixth to reduce the differential from 4-1 to 4-3.
Luis Exposito was the only member of the PawSox batting order who did not so much as reach base or even put much relish on the ball in any of his three plate appearances.
Bell put Buffalo on the board upon taking a walk, stealing second after luring Fox into two unsuccessful pickoff attempts, and hustling home on Feliciano’s base hit. In total, the aggressive Bisons drew four pickoff attempts on the day.
Once Fox departed, Lutz’s cold bat thawed out and he became the only Buffalo player with multiple hits on the day. He averted a 1-2-3 seventh with a single to left and likewise thwarted a quick-and-easy ninth by dropping another base hit on Nava’s property.
Like Pat Misch a day before him, Owen lost his second start at McCoy in 2011. The Bisons are 2-4 in visits to Pawtucket this season with the brunt of the losses split entirely between this weekend’s starters.
In relief of Owen, Jack Egbert and Dale Thayer combined for three no-run, no-hit innings. The PawSox combined for seven groundouts and two fly outs in those final stanzas.
Luna joined Sheely in the hit batsman club, taking a free pass from Owen to lead off the second. A dispute over Sheely’s HBP play in the fifth inning warranted an ejection for Buffalo skipper Tim Teufel to start the sixth.
Rice was credited with his second hold while Randy Williams, who handled the ninth-inning workload, garnered his fifth save.