The more the baseball gods inexplicably tear them apart, the closer the Pawtucket Red Sox come together. Or, so it seemed by the end of Friday night’s outing.
Whether they did it by driving in runs, crossing the plate themselves or a combination, eight out of nine batters contributed to a 7-1 lashing of the Columbus Clippers at McCoy Stadium. In doing so, they rewarded newcomer Greg Smith in his first PawSox start.
Smith, who was just claimed off waivers from the Yankees organization and was pitching in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre attire as late as last Saturday, plugged the hole in Friday’s lineup card left by injuries to Matt Fox and Brandon Duckworth. He took a step beyond that with a one-run, seven-inning gem against the I.L.-leading Clippers.
Almost anything the southpaw Smith’s outing was, Columbus starter Mitch Talbot’s wasn’t. By the time Talbot was finished, the veteran of 42 Major League games had thrown 84 pitches in a mere 3.2 innings.
Unsavory items on Talbot’s tab included six runs on seven hits, three walks, three stolen bases behind his back, a balk and one of his team’s three errors up to that point.
One of two unearned runs was still, for all intents and purposes, Talbot’s fault as his throwing error allowed Daniel Nava to score all the way from first on Lars Anderson’s infield single with two out in the fourth.
The PawSox began their first mosquito-like feeding frenzy on Talbot in the second inning as Hector Luna and Brett Carroll started the second inning with back-to-back doubles. Luis Exposito followed up with a walk and followed Carroll into scoring position on Talbot’s balk.
After a pair of strikeouts, Nate Spears lined his second centerfield single in as many at-bats, this time with enough force to score both runners and augment the lead to 3-0.
With one out in the fourth, Jose Iglesias effectively kindled Pawtucket’s next sugar rush when he reached on third baseman Jared Goedert’s fielding error. He would hustle home for the team’s fourth run on Che-Hsuan Lin’s double to the left-center warning track.
Lin advanced to third on Spears’ sacrifice grounder to second and waited patiently while Nava drew a walk. The two men would subsequently score on a bizarre play as Lars Anderson squeezed out an infield single and advanced to second while Talbot the Clippers engaged themselves in a vain effort to throw out Nava at third.
The Clippers finally got to Smith in the seventh. Nick Johnson and Goedert lined back-to-back singles and Johnson put Columbus on the board with the invitation of Argenis Reyes’ two-out double.
Smith would hand things over to Hideki Okajima after an even seven innings and having thrown 84 pitches to match the besieged Talbot’s bushel.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pawtucket touched Columbus’ second reliever, Matt Langwell, whose outing was at first reminiscent of his starter’s. Anderson reached second on Goedert’s second error of the night, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored his team’s seventh run on Luna’s rolling single to shallow left-center.
Although none of them amounted to extra runs, the Sox capitalized on Talbot’s contagious sloppiness and swiped three early bags in as many innings. With two out in the first, Spears and Nava pulled off a double-steal to put themselves each in scoring position while Luna pilfered second in the third with two down in the third.
Spears, who also batted 2-for-4 on the night, is now tied with Lin for the team lead with 13 steals. Meanwhile, Nava has nine on the year and Luna is a perfect 6-for-6 in his stealing attempts on the year.
Handling the DH duties in his Triple-A debut, touted third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He was directly liable for leaving a combined three runners in scoring position in the third and fourth. He later swung and missed at a payoff pitch with Anderson at third in the seventh.
Columbus stranded each of its first four baserunners, only one of whom reached scoring position. That was Cord Phelps, who leveled a two-out triple to right field in the third.
Designated hitter Beau Mills batted 2-for-4 on the night and finished the series 4-for-11. Goedert nailed a pair of singles himself.
Talbot’s first reliever, Paolo Espino, pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit in the form of a ground-rule double by Jose Iglesias.
Okajima has now pitched four straight scoreless innings with only one hit allowed, that being a single by Jerad Head in the eighth Friday night.
Fresh off the disabled list, Royce Ring polished the game off in the ninth in his first appearance in nine days.