Ryan Lavarnway had failed to put a ball into play over his first four plate-appearances Saturday night. The PawSox as a whole had failed to break a single Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees reliever all night.
That all changed in the bottom of the eighth when the breakthrough catcher/DH homered to left field, instantaneously morphing a 7-5 deficit into an 8-7 lead.
Subsequent two-out, two-RBI hits by Jose Iglesias and Joey Gathright, who had filled in for Drew Sutton as a pinch-runner in the exact same inning, raised the upper hand to 12-7.
Veteran Randy Williams turned that to stone with an elusive 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, striking out Jorge Vazquez to shut the door on the team’s first International League North Division title since 2003.
This game was one that Peter Gammons likely would have described as “won and lost a dozen times” the same way he famously did when he chronicled Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The PawSox took both of their leads in bunches, bookending an excruciating interlude of aridness.
It didn’t take time for Tony Pena, Jr. and his offensive colleagues to set the tone in their rematch with Scranton starter Manny Banuelos, who shut the PawSox out five days prior on one hit and four baserunners.
For the second consecutive night, the Sox let the Pinstripes nab a 1-0 edge in the top of the first, only to surmount that deficit in the bottom half. Mike Lamb homered to right for the game’s first run, but Banuelos let a multitude of walks haunt him without hesitation when he took to the mound.
With two men on the corners and two out, Daniel Nava blooped Pawtucket’s first hit in the form of a single to center to score Sutton and draw a 1-1 knot.
After Hector Luna drew a full-count walk, recent call-up Will Middlebrooks busted that tie with his first dinger at the Triple-A level. He lobbed the team’s seventh grand slam of the season to the bullpen in right field for a 5-1 lead.
Banuelos was no better in the second inning. He once again loaded the bases on a two-out walk, at which point he was forked out in favor of George Kontos. His line for the night contained five walks, five earned runs and five hits with only 26 of 57 pitches going for strikes in 1.2 stanzas.
Pena involuntarily emulated Banuelos in the third, allowing back-to-back singles and hitting Lamb to load the bases with no outs. In turn, Jorge Vazquez and Austin Romine hit into back-to-back fielder’s choices to score Kevin Russo and Ramiro Pena, respectively, and saw the four-run difference to 5-3.
Kontos allowed no hits through his first 2.1 innings, but the PawSox squandered three walks and a hit-batsman to strand two apiece in the third and fourth. Meanwhile, in the fifth, Kevin Russo whittled Pawtucket’s lead down to 5-4 when he led off with a single, stole second and hustled home on Ramiro Pena’s single.
In the sixth, Doug Bernier thrust reliever Junichi Tazawa’s payoff pitch down the right field line for a double to score Jordan Parraz and Golson and usurp a 6-5 lead. Parraz added a swift dose of insurance in the eighth, leading off with a triple off the left-center wall and scoring on Golson’s subsequent single to shallow left.
But after six scoreless innings, the Sox reprised their fruitful first inning, batting around and wresting away a substantial lead.
Luis Exposito, who has not seen much action of late, had a solid night on the offensive front. Facing a different pitcher in each plate-appearance, he logged a single in the first, a leadoff double in the fifth and a four-pitch walk in the seventh.
Luna walked three times and, despite stranding four teammates between two other at-bats, put all of the salsa he could on the ball. As Kontos’ first challenger in the second with the bases loaded, he barely missed serving up seconds of salami as Golson caught his fly on the left-center warning track. He flied out to the same player in the same position with Anderson on third to end the sixth. If that weren’t the third out, Anderson doubtlessly would have tagged for an easy equalizer.
When the getting was tough for the offense, Lars Anderson pilfered an extra-base hit off of stingy Scranton reliever Hector Noesi in the sixth and cashed in on a passed ball to reach third base. In the eighth, feeding off of Lavarnway’s decisive homer, the cleanup man started up the second ripple of the inning with a single.
One day after coming off the disabled list, Royce Ring earned his first winning decision with the PawSox, needing only 11 pitches to put out Trever Miller’s fire in the eighth.
Considering he had allowed only two runs while receiving no offensive support whatsoever in each of two previous bouts with the Yankees, one would think Pena’s performance would have conveyed more appreciation than it did Saturday.
Not so. Pena alternated between shoddy and shiny innings, with the former outnumbering the latter by one. His final line for the night included four earned runs on six hits, along with a wild pitch, in five innings. Tazawa may have dropped Pena’s shot at a winning decision, but the starter hardly handed things over to him so smoothly.
Immediately after Russo cut the deficit down to 5-4, Luna committed a cardiac error that let Mike Lamb on board with still nobody out in the fifth.
Unlike Luna, the way Sutton let prospective RBIs evaporate was more reprehensible. He grounded to second to strand two in the third and stranded Exposito in scoring position in the sixth, so soon after the Yankees had pulled ahead.
Russo and Parraz each picked up two hits and two runs-scored. Russo also struck out once against three different PawSox pitchers.
Two different Scranton relievers threw a wild pitch in the eight. First, Eric Wordekemper let Che-Hsuan Lin take third base after the leadoff man had been hit and stole second. Four plays later (and with still no outs) Kevin Whelan let Anderson and Nava both reach scoring position before walking Luna to load the bases.
Whalen struck out three batters in his lone inning of work, but was also charged with a costly five runs on five hits.
Noesi and Wordekemper were both credited with a hold. Both Pawtucket’s Tazawa and Scranton’s Whelan were tagged with a blown save.
Sunday’s game versus Rochester will be the season finale for Cox Sports Television.