Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Spears’ walk-off is last stage in PawSox hero’s day at the plate

Nate Spears is ordinarily a second-baseman who has half-heartedly expressed self-doubt when assigned to play shortstop, but has just as willingly assumed that position as well as that of left field.

Rather fitting, therefore, that on a day when he played the full length of a game in Daniel Nava’s usual territory, he would dip his name under most every major offensive heading.

His game-saving, game-winning catapult that granted the PawSox another instantaneous 4-3 triumph over the Louisville Bats was just the grand finale to Spears’ show Tuesday afternoon. In a span of four at-bats and five plate appearances on the day, he essentially went from one stage of achievement to another in an order of exponential improvement.

Given the No. 2 slot in the batting order, Spears struck out swinging at a 2-2 pitch in the bottom of the first.

In his second confrontation with Louisville starter Scott Carroll, with Pawtucket looking to add to a 2-1 lead with Che-Hsuan Lin on board with a leadoff walk, Spears connected and put the ball in play. But Bats left fielder Kristopher Negron snared the distant pop-up with relative facility and Lin was ultimately stranded to end the third inning.

With Lin on board again in the fifth, Spears drew a full-count walk against the command-lacking Carroll for his first baserunning endeavor in three tries on the day. With the game now squared a two apiece and one out in the inning, Lin and Spears vied to renew the lead with the help of the heart of the batting order with Jed Lowrie, Lars Anderson and Hector Luna all looming.

But Lowrie and Anderson both disappointed with a pair of soft grounders to quell the threat and the 2-2 draw lived on through Spears’ next at-bat in the seventh. Yet again, Lin had drawn a one-out walk ahead of Spears and this time, the multifaceted fielder belted his first hit in four tries and just Pawtucket’s fifth on the day.

In what was little more than a twist of ill fortune however, Lin lost a dramatic footrace as he attempted to advance from first to third ahead of Spears’ single. Bats right fielder Jeremy Hermida caught up to the ball and collaborated with third baseman Mike Costanzo to catch Lin out.

With that, the PawSox had failed on their most radiant opportunity to bring a runner as far as third base since Lars Anderson’s two-run homer in the first inning.

Undaunted, with otherworldly slugger Ryan Lavarnway pinch-hitting for Lowrie, Spears stole second base for the second time in as many nights. A fresh-armed Lavarnway now had a chance to nudge home the go-ahead run with a simple, distant base hit.

Instead, Lavarnway went down swinging at an 0-2 pitch from Jared Burton, evaporating the baserunner and retaining the 2-2 tie through the start of the eighth.

One inning later, none other than Spears was involved in the play that saw Louisville finally pull ahead. After Devin Mesoraco led off with a single to centerfield and advanced to third on Daniel Dorn’s base hit to right, Costanzo lobbed a basic sacrifice fly to Spears, who had next-to no chance of thwarting Mesoraco’s go-ahead hustle home.

With that, the PawSox faced the glowering ultimatum of either rerunning the dramatics of Monday night’s victory or risk losing more footing in the congested International League wild-card derby. A win would have given Louisville three out of four in their visit and brought the Bats to within 2.5 games of the Sox.

Bottom-feeding batters Ronald Bermudez and Tony Thomas hardly helped any of the cardiac cases among the McCoy masses as they nimbly constituted the first two outs.

But yet again, Lin walked on a full-count to end a 10-pitch at-bat and bring Spears to the dish. From there, Fisher cast instant shades of his besieged colleague Jordan Smith, throwing three unanswered balls.

Most certainly in light of recent developments, Spears elected to wait for Ball Four, though the next offering proved a strike.

So when Fisher’s next thrust fell within a similar range over the plate, Spears―who also had Pawtucket’s only ninth-inning hit Monday in the form of a single―took a hack and then took a euphoric tour around the diamond.