Thursday, August 4, 2011

In win over PawSox, Bisons get their Ducks worth for a change

There were a few iffy omens early on in Brendan Duckworth’s start for the PawSox Thursday night. There were disturbances pointing to the specter of a rare defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bisons, whether it would go on the starter’s tab or not.

For instance, by the fourth inning, with still nobody out, Duckworth had already doled out three walks. That alone equated the three walks he had logged over a span of 24.1 innings-pitched during his personal four-game winning streak, which came to an inevitable end when reliever Clevelan Santeliz spilled a 4-1 lead in the sixth.

The three walks Duckworth yielded to the Bisons also matched the three Buffalo had drawn on his tab in a span of 18.2 innings that covered their first three confrontations in the 2011 season. In those games, Duckworth had notched himself a 2-0 record while Pawtucket had gone 3-0.

It was a little less than a stunner when, by night’s end, the Bisons had claimed a 5-4 extra-inning upshot at McCoy Stadium, thereby slapping the Sox with their first loss in a Duckworth-Buffalo start this season. After all, the veteran hurler himself was having first-time fits against the visiting bat rack.

On the one hand, he did muster three 1-2-3 stanzas in the first, third and fifth innings. On the other hand, Duckworth was done by the end of the fifth after he had thrown a total of 92 pitches.

In that regard, the bedraggled Bisons were suddenly more like the top dog Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who likewise allowed Duckworth to stay on for only five frames in recent confrontations July 18 and July 29.

In every case, it was not for lack of ability to cooperate with the defense and restrain the opposition under the run heading. After all, he authorized merely one run for his second earned-run in a grand total of 23.1 innings against Buffalo this season.

It was simply for a quicker-than-desired drainage of the tank.

No Bison pestered Duckworth Thursday night quite like No. 5-hitting right fielder Fernando Martinez. Martinez constituted the evening’s first baserunner on either side when he drew a one-out walk in the second inning. He had patiently earned an initial 3-0 edge in the count, took a strike, then fouled off the next two pitches before Duckworth’s seventh throw missed the zone.

In the fourth, with Duckworth now safeguarding a 1-0 lead, Martinez approached the dish on the heels of a leadoff double by Joshua Satin and a full-count walk to Valentino Pascucci.

After taking a pair of balls and strikes in succession, Martinez stood back and let the count run full, then fouled off four straight would-be payoff pitches. On the fifth do-over and the tenth overall pitch of the confrontation, Martinez was directed to first base, loading the diamond with nobody out.

After a visit from pitching coach Rich Sauveur, Duckworth stopped the bleeding momentarily by striking out Nick Evans. But Jesus Feliciano, who had also singled in the second inning, moved everyone up one station and scored Satin from third with a one-out base hit.

PawSox second baseman Drew Sutton seized the spotlight for the rest of the inning, snuffing out a liner by Ruben Tejada and throwing out Raul Chavez on an inning-ending grounder.

Buffalo was thereby confined only to an equalizer, but in that fourth frame alone, Duckworth’s pitch count had spiked from 45 to 77 tosses.

For that reason, he did not get a chance to build upon a promising fifth inning, which he polished off with relative facility by inducing Luis Figueroa to a leadoff fly out and benching Mike Baxter and Satin on strikes.

Translation: Duckworth had initially allowed three walks with no strikeouts to speak of, then halted the bases-on-balls for three straight strikeouts while allowing only one hit in the interim. But having thrown another 15 pitches in the fifth, there was little logic in sending him back to defend the new 4-1 lead his mates granted him in the bottom half.

Instead, the lately struggling Santeliz came on and all but breathed a second wind into the Bisons. Buffalo nimbly drew a 4-4 knot on three more hits in a span of 0.2 innings-pitched, then claimed the ensuing bullpen’s arm-wrestling match at the expense of Michael Bowden in the extra inning.