The situation the Pawtucket Red Sox are in after Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Coca-Cola Park is as plain as they reason why they are in it.
Unlike the Sox, the host IronPigs―especially their key players―did not take an extended afternoon nap into the confrontation. Nor did they habitually doze back off when the time was right to hit the “go” button with men on base.
And so, contrary to the adage that in baseball, “there’s always tomorrow,” the 2011 PawSox have as few as two tomorrow’s left as they trail the best-of-five Governor’s Cup playoff series, 1-0.
On their first couple of post-season go-arounds, the core of the IronPigs’ offense was effective when that of the PawSox wasn’t. After Che-Hsuan Lin and Joey Gathright both reached base to lead off the first, the leaned-on likes of Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson and Hector Luna all failed to knock any of them home.
In the bottom half, league-leading base-stealer and run-scorer Rich Thompson wasted no time exercising his two fortes. He led off with a single, stole second base, advanced to third on Scott Podsednik’s sacrifice bunt, then gave Lehigh Valley a 1-0 edge with the help of Kevin Frandsen’s sacrifice grounder to Luna at second.
Erik Kratz, the IronPigs regular-season batting average leader (.288), raised the upper hand to 2-0 with a solo shot to left field in the second inning.
After the heart of the PawSox order showed little life again in the third (Luna stranded both Nava and Anderson), high-ranking slugger and old friend Brandon Moss made it 3-0 in the fourth. He led off the inning with a distant dinger to right-centerfield, giving him his second hit in as many confrontations with Pawtucket ace Matt Fox.
With that, Fox had already given up more than two runs in a single start for the first time since his last losing decision, a 13-3 debacle against Durham on July 17.
The Sox and at least one of their top bats finally perked up when the cleanup man Anderson ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a homer to right to lead off the sixth. That ended a team-leading, 33-day, 80-at-bat drought without a dinger and whittled the deficit down to 3-1.
But Freddy Galvis sent his own shot into the same locality in the seventh at the expense of reliever Brandon Duckworth, restoring the three-run difference to 4-1.
As it happened, the heart of the PawSox order was due up next. They did load the bases with one out, allowing Luis Exposito to sacrifice himself on a grounder that sent Nava home from third.
But Luna and Will Middlebrooks were subsequently left on third and second, respectively, effectively capping off a night that saw Pawtucket stand nine baserunners altogether, including seven in scoring position.
With none other than Nava on deck in the ninth, IronPigs closer Justin De Fratus wrapped up a 1-2-3 ninth.
It took Nava a while to get a tangible reward, but his aggression in the batter’s box base paths was repeatedly evident Thursday night. In his first at-bat, he put Lin and Gathright in scoring position on a sacrifice grounder, although they were both stranded. He singled up the middle to avert a 1-2-3 third inning. And in the eighth, he led off with a walk, stole second base with Luna at bat, advanced to third on Middlebrooks’ single and scored Pawtucket’s second run with the help of Exposito’s sacrifice.
In each of his first two plate-appearances, the PawSox had two outs and Luna had two prospective RBIs on board. But through a strikeout and a shallow fly to right, he let all four of those evaporate in a hurry.
For Jose Iglesias, the first two trips to the batter’s box constituted a case of strand or be stranded. In the second, he let Brett Carroll’s two-out double go to waste when he grounded to first. In the fifth, he reached on pitcher Dave Bush’s fielding error, then stole second and advanced to third on Gathright’s sacrifice, only to watch helplessly as Nava’s fly ended his bid to hatch Bush’s goose-egg.
Bush left with two outs in the seventh inning, having thrown 98 pitches, 70 of which went for strikes and six strikeouts. He was, however, involved in two errors. The first, which let Iglesias on board in the fourth, was charged to him. And his final play had him chasing down a misfired throw by first baseman Cody Overbeck that ultimately let Lin get to scoring position.
Bush’s first reliever, Joe Savery, struck out his only challenger when Gathright tipped a 2-2 pitch into the mitt of Kratz to end the seventh.
Duckworth, reactivated Thursday after 20 days on the disabled list, struck out Overbeck on three straight swings-and-misses to commence the seventh. But he was ultimately forked out after recording two outs, followed by two extra-base hits. Dating back to August 10, Duckworth has authorized at least one home run in each of his last three outings.
Of the 18 position players active in Game 1, Lehigh Valley’s Frandsen and Overbeck were the only two to not reach base at any point on the night.