Friday, September 9, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: IronPigs 3, PawSox 2

Swift summation
The way PawSox reliever Randy Williams mishandled Rich Thompson’s short-distance bunt was aptly symbolic of his fatally juggling with torches. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs formidable baserunner reached on Williams’ fielding error with no outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, also placing Freddy Galvis in scoring position.

Two plays later, an intentional walk to Kevin Frandsen loaded the bases and daringly summoned Brandon Moss, whose subsequent single to right-center gave him all of his team’s RBIs in a 3-2 final at Coca-Cola Park.

With that, Pawtucket now finds itself down, 2-0, in the best-of-five Governor’s Cup semifinal series. And despite returning home for up to three do-or-die games, the Sox are facing anything but auspicious circumstances, having just wasted the efforts of the two most reliable members of their playoff rotation, Matt Fox and Tony Pena, Jr.

Not unlike his other two bouts with Lehigh Valley, Pena had a lead for a time, but it was brittle and short-lived.

In the opening frame, Lars Anderson did as he had done in the opening game by driving in Pawtucket’s first run on an extra-base hit. With two outs and Jose Iglesias on board, he cranked a double to the right-center warning track, allowing Iglesias to hustle all the way home from first for a 1-0 lead.

Pena set the most auspicious tone possible on his first shift of duty, needing only seven pitches and throwing all of them for strikes in a 1-2-3 first. But that trend changed in a hurry in the ensuing innings.

Moss pulled the IronPigs even to lead off the home half of the second, catapulting Pena’s first pitch over the fence in straightaway center. One inning later, with two on board and one away, Moss doubled to center to send Scott Podsednik home from second, granting the hosts a 2-1 upper hand.

Only thrice in the regular season, including his two other bouts with Lehigh Valley, had Pena thrown more pitches than the 85 he chucked in Thursday’s start. When he reached that point, on the heels of allowing back-to-back two-out singles, he was forked out in favor of Hideki Okajima after a mere 4.2 innings-pitched.

Okajima’s first challenger was none other than Moss, who lost the lefty-to-lefty confrontation by popping up to the shortstop Iglesias in shallow left.

Lehigh Valley starter Ryan Edell left relatively early as well, having thrown 75 pitches in 5.2 innings. His second reliever, Phillippe Aumont, would spill his bid for a win in the eighth.

Che-Hsuan Lin led off by daringly bunting and diving into first base on a play that was scored a fielding error to IronPigs first baseman Tagg Bozied. Lin would advance to second on a wild-pitch, transfer to third on Iglesias’ sacrifice bunt, then draw a 2-2 knot ahead of Daniel Nava’s ground-rule double to left-center.

To commence the bottom of the ninth, Williams issued a four-pitch walk to Delwyn Young, thus snapping the Pawtucket bullpen’s night-long string of 10 straight retired batters. But Young was stranded on second base, prompting extra innings.

PawSox pluses
Okajima, who went through his final six regular-season relief outings without allowing a run, did about all that could be asked of him Friday night. Facing four batters, he struck out two and induced a pair of grounders.

Junichi Tazawa was equally pristine when he succeeded Okajima to commence the seventh. He induced a popup and a flyout before benching three straight on strikes to retire all five of his batters-faced.

Sox stains
After the Pigs had taken the 2-1 lead, Tony Thomas blew an opportunity to pull the PawSox even in one of the most egregious possible ways. After being hit by a pitch to earn a free base with two outs in the fifth, he quickly spilled that opportunity with Lin at the plate, getting caught in a botched attempt to steal second.

And if there were any seams in the psyche of Lehigh Valley reliever Mike Zagurski in the seventh inning, Carroll and Thomas didn’t find it. They struck out back-to-back to strand Will Middlebrooks and Luis Exposito on the corners, ending the top of the seventh with the 2-1 deficit still intact.

Carroll’s quiet night at the plate included one shallow fly to right-center and three strikeouts.

IronPigs notes
Frandsen, a former PawSox infielder hit 2-for-3 against Pena and just missed giving the IronPigs a two-run advantage in the bottom of the third. He attempted to follow Podsednik home on Moss’ RBI double, but was thrown out on a relay between Lin, Thomas and Exposito.

Justin De Fratus, Lehigh Valley’s fourth pitcher on the night, struck out two for a 1-2-3 ninth. He then struck out the side on a couple of disputed calls for a 1-2-3 tenth.

Catcher Erik Kratz, the IronPigs’ regular-season batting leader with a .288 average, did not start the game but pinch-hit for plate-patrolling colleague Dane Sardinha in the ninth and assumed his usual defensive post to commence the tenth.

Drew Sutton, outrighted by the parent club earlier in the day, pinch-hit for Thomas to commence extra innings, though he was rung up after taking a payoff pitch from De Fratus.

In other Friday transactions, the PawSox lost reliever Scott Atchison to his sixth Major League call-up of the year, but brought up Royce Ring from Double-A Portland to fill the bullpen void.

Two nights after local Bruins fans had a chance to meet the Stanley Cup at the Rhode Island Convention Center, the Red Sox will bring their recent hardware to the home of their Ocean State associates. Both the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies will be on display outside of McCoy Stadium prior to Game 3 on Saturday.

The defending Triple-A national champion Columbus Clippers finished a three-game sweep of the Durham Bulls with a 5-2 victory Friday night. Either the PawSox or IronPigs will venture to Huntington Park for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup Finals on Tuesday.