As they pushed themselves to the precipice of a playoff passport, nearly all of the most leaned-on members of the PawSox active roster did something to show they are ready for higher-stakes hardball.
Matt Fox was credited with a team-leading 10th win of the season in a 4-3 triumph over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on Friday. His offensive colleagues held up their end of the bargain as the top six constituents of the batting order pitched in at least one hit, one run-scored, one RBI or a variety pack.
The PawSox, who once upon a time were consistently out of first place from April 19 to August 8, can now wrap up their first divisional crown since 2003 with another win or Lehigh Valley loss on Saturday.
Fox entered the game with a 3-0 record against Scranton. He was riding an identical 3-0 winning streak, wherein he had allowed no more than two hits per night and one run altogether in a span of 20 innings-pitched.
Before PawSox leadoff man Che-Hsuan Lin had his first turn at bat on Friday, Fox’s tab already had a run and two extra-base hits on it. Kevin Russo led off with a home run, belting a payoff pitch over the left-center wall. Two plays later, Mike Lamb doubled to the same location.
Fox ultimately maxed out his virtual pitch limit (92) after an even five innings, but did not allow any further damage in the run column.
Lars Anderson quickly recompensed Fox’s only run in the bottom half of the first, doubling Lin home from second whilst nudging Ryan Lavarnway to third. In turn, Lavarnway scored on Daniel Nava’s sacrifice grounder for a 2-1 lead.
Lavarnway raised the upper hand to 3-1 in the third inning. With Drew Sutton aboard with a one-out walk, Lavarnway doubled to deep center, scoring Sutton directly from first base.
Hector Luna homered in the sixth to augment the lead to 4-1.
The Yankees pulled back to within a run in the eighth on PawSox reliever Scott Atchison’s watch. Atchison inherited a runner in Lamb from Tommy Hottovy with one out and allowed three singles out of four challengers.
First, Jorge Vazquez placed himself and Lamb on the corners. Lamb scored on Jordan Parraz’s two-out deposit in right-center and Vazquez hustled home from second ahead of Raymond Kruml’s base hit to shallow center.
Lin alertly retrieved the remnants of Kruml’s connection to throw Parraz out at third to salvage the 4-3 lead.
And in the ninth, Atchison shut the door by striking out Greg Golson, walking Doug Bernier, then getting Russo to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double-play.
As Fox’s first reliever, Hideki Okajima briefly juggled with torches but got through unscathed in the most assertive fashion. With one out and two men on board, he struck out Jordan Parraz and Raymond Kruml back-to-back, thus preserving what was then a 3-1 lead and extending his shutout streak to four relief appearances and eight full innings.
Okajima was the only one of four PawSox pitchers not to allow a run on Friday.
Anderson and Luna each had a multi-hit game and also did their part on the right side of the infield. Anderson carried out an unassisted double-play and collaborated with the second baseman Luna on two others.
Granted, Lavarnway had a fairly irreproachable night on both sides of the plate, but there were a few plays that could have gone better. In the second, the catcher was charged with his first Triple-A error when he failed to foil Golson’s stealing attempt, ultimately allowing the Scranton centerfielder to take another bag at third.
In the bottom of the third, one play after he had batted in Pawtucket’s third run, Lavarnway paid for lack of patience as he was thrown out by left fielder Raymond Kruml while trying to score from second on Anderson’s base hit.
Similarly, for all he did, Anderson could have done much more. But in the seventh, at which point he was batting 2-for-3 and had the bases loaded, he worked up a 3-0 count, only to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Offensively speaking, Will Middlebrooks is still not exactly acclimated to the Triple-A level. He struck out three times, including looking at an 0-2 pitch in the eighth with Nava and Luna on board.
In relief of starter Adam Warren, Andrew Brackman and Logan Kensing pitched one inning apiece and combined for five walks, but each allowed no runs and no hits.
Golson and Kruml stole a bag in the second and fourth, respectively, while Bernier took a free pass to second in the second on Fox’s wild pitch. But in the fifth, Russo was caught in his attempt to swipe a spot in scoring position as Lavarnway collaborated with PawSox shortstop Jose Iglesias.
The No. 9-slotted Bernier had only one official at-bat as he drew three walks, one apiece against Fox, Hottovy and Atchison.
Joey Gathright, acquired and assigned by Boston on Thursday, began his second stint with the PawSox when he replaced Nate Spears in right field to commence the eighth inning. In his first at-bat in the bottom half, he ran quickly enough to avert a double play and thus place himself and Nava at the corners with two out.
Tony Pena, Jr. can join Fox as Pawtucket’s only two 10-game winners this season as he figures to toe the rubber on Saturday.