Pawtucket Red Sox fans are doubtlessly hoping that Monday afternoon’s top-to-bottom feast on Wings will be a mere appetizer before a banquet of Lehigh Valley IronPig pork in the coming week’s International League opening round.
All nine members of the batting order pitched in at least one run-scored or run batted in while four pitchers gave, at worst, a decent performance for a 7-3 win over the I.L.’s worst record holder, the Rochester Red Wings, before 9,482 fans at McCoy Stadium.
Against the likes of Lehigh Valley, the presumptive first-round opponent at the time of the final out at McCoy, everyone will have to tune it up a little more. But Monday’s effort was good enough for a savory sweep of a four-game homestand to curtain the regular season.
To start up the scoring in the bottom of the second, a pair of relatively recent call-ups from Portland set the right tone for their role in the postseason, each leaving the yard. First, touted third baseman Will Middlebrooks belted Eric Hacker’s 1-1 toss to right-center for the first hit of the game, extending his RBI streak to three games.
Four plays later, catcher Dan Butler made his first plate-appearance at the Triple-A level by homering to left to carry Ryan Khoury and Jose Iglesias home and raise the upper hand to 4-0 in the second.
The Red Wings quickly retorted in the third. Dustin Martin constituted Rochester’s first baserunner with a rolling single to center to lead off. In turn Toby Gardenhire cut the deficit in half to 4-2 with a dinger to left-center.
The PawSox started their half of the fifth at the top of the order. Che-Hsuan Lin, Joey Gathright and Daniel Nava all found their way on base and Lars Anderson drew a four-pitch walk to force in Lin, augmenting the lead to 5-2.
On the next play, Middlebrooks popped out to shallow right, but Gathright―who had reached on an infield single and stolen second with Nava at bat―made a daring break for a sacrifice run that made it 6-2. In turn, Nava hustled home from second base for Pawtucket’s seventh run ahead of Brett Carroll’s deposit into right field.
Rochester endured a second string of back-to-back 1-2-3 innings before former PawSox infielder Aaron Bates brought the deficit back to within four runs, 7-3, with a leadoff homer in the seventh.
Bur after that, relievers Tommy Hottovy, Trever Miller and Scott Atchison combined to retire nine straight with Atchison whiffing Bates to cement an 81-61 record, second-best in the I.L. behind Columbus.
Iglesias finished the regular season with at least one hit and one run-scored in each of the final three games.
Overall, dating back to the start of the season’s final road trip, he has curtained the tune-up for the playoffs by going 13-for-39 for a .333 batting average over the last dozen games. This coming after he had retained a mere .227 average with eight extra-base hits and 26 RBIs through his first 89 outings. He upped his final success rate eight points to .235 over the final two weeks of the regular season.
In addition to his productively bold baserunning that helped crack open the crater in the fifth, plus another infield hit in the seventh, Gathright made a key contribution from his left-field post in the fourth. After two Rochester runners found themselves in scoring position, Gathright caught Chase Lambin’s fly and threw back into the infield to keep Ray Chang on third base, where he was ultimately stranded.
After setting such an efficient tone with six straight outs and only 21 pitches through two innings, starting southpaw Greg Smith appeared victimized by subconscious complacency with his newly bestowed 4-0 edge. Over the next two innings, he spiked his pitch count up to 66, allowing two runs in the third and having to bail himself out after walking his first two challengers in the fourth.
Red Wings notes
Hacker, who victimized the PawSox in their first loss of the season at McCoy back on April 8, lasted only five innings after throwing 96 pitches and allowing seven runs on seven hits while also walking three and hitting Anderson with a 2-0 pitch in the third.
Hacker took the loss to finish his season at 7-14 with three of those losses coming against Pawtucket.
Relievers Carlos Gutierrez, Jake Stevens and Dusty Hughes each threw one inning apiece. They combined to allow only two hits out of 10 challengers to at least stop the bleeding in the sixth, seventh and eighth.
Butler, recalled on Sunday, who played two games at this level last year, is the fifth catcher to have seen action with the PawSox this season, joining Luis Exposito, Ryan Lavarnway, Michael McKenry and Matt Spring. Overall, Butler makes 63 different players to have seen action in Pawtucket attire in 2011.
Lavarnway, multifaceted fielder Nate Spears and starting pitcher Kyle Weiland were all recalled to Boston. Meanwhile, the PawSox lost another key hitter in Drew Sutton as the parent club designated him for assignment Monday. Ryan Khoury came back up from Double-A Portland to help supplement the losses.
Sutton could still rejoin the team for the postseason if he clears waivers on time. However, he is officially off the BoSox’ 40-man roster, which now means his only realistic hope for a title in the 2011 season is at the Triple-A level.