Friday, September 2, 2011

Sutton’s second chance for championship imminent

Between various injuries and promotions to the parent Boston Red Sox, infielder Drew Sutton has all but reduced his 2011 game log with the PawSox to a sprinkling of cameos.

Reactivated for Friday’s 4-3 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, Sutton put in his first appearance at either level in nearly four weeks after sitting on the disabled list with a right finger contusion.

When he approached the plate as Pawtucket’s designated hitter, he had officially played only his sixth game at the Triple-A level in a span of four calendar months, dating all the way back to May 15.

But in the midst of helping the PawSox shrivel their magic number to clinch the International League North from two to one, Sutton showed that he can consistently contribute, no matter how consistently he is available.

The No.-2 slotted Sutton grounded out in his first at-bat since August 4, but then walked in the third inning and scored all the way from first ahead of Ryan Lavarnway’s double to grant Pawtucket a 3-1 edge. He later singled in the fifth, ultimately finishing the night 1-for-3 with a run-scored.

Since May 15, Sutton has now hit safely in nine of his last 10 games with the PawSox, going 11-for-31 overall in that span. He began and ended Friday night’s outing with a .306 batting average, which still leads all active Pawtucket batters.

Perhaps even more tellingly, Sutton’s last 10 games at the Triple-A level have included eight battles with reckonable playoff contenders. Friday night and May 15 were both against a Scranton team that was only recently evaporated from the playoff picture.

Elsewhere, Sutton went 3-for-7 over three games and hit his most recent PawSox home run against the I.L.-best Columbus Clippers in May. Between June and July, he sandwiched a call-up to Boston with three games against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, hitting once in all three to go a respectable 3-for-10 overall.

And now, with one more win for the PawSox or one more Lehigh Valley loss, Sutton can look forward to his second consecutive trip to the I.L. playoffs. And, although his recent injury might hamper this, there is still the chance of another promotion to Boston, where he has accumulated 17 hits in 54 at-bats over 31 games-played.

Either way, he should have at least one, if not two chances to challenge for a postseason championship, something that a Pyrrhic sort of twist barely denied him last year.

Sutton began the 2010 season with Cincinnati, spending the better part of the year with the Louisville Bats. He was a late-season acquisition by the in-state rival Cleveland Indians and wound up finishing the minor-league campaign with the Columbus Clippers.

The Clippers entered the postseason as the wild-card entry and faced the North champion Yankees in the opening round. Sutton hit safely once in each of four games, going 6-for-18 overall with two runs-scored and three RBIs in the clinching game as Columbus pulled a 3-1 upset in the best-of-five series.

He was subsequently promoted to the parent Indians, where he saw action in 11 Major League games while the Clippers moved on to face the top-dog Durham Bulls in the Governor’s Cup championship.

The tradeoff Sutton made was playing in The Show for a go-nowhere, 69-93 Cleveland team while missing out on the rest of the Clippers’ fulfilling playoff run. Columbus ran down the Bulls in four games for the I.L. pennant, and then beat the Tacoma Rainiers, 12-6, in the Triple-A National Championship game.

That had to sting somewhat, no matter how much of Sutton may divulge. But this weekend practically constitutes Take 2 in the title department.

In this Saturday’s bout, Sutton can pick up where he left off by helping the PawSox to another win over the Jr. Pinstripes, one that would seal up their playoff bid and home-field advantage for at least the first round.

From there, the prospect of confronting the reigning champion Clippers in the I.L. title round remains a possibility. Think Sutton wouldn’t at least have to struggle to conceal his human giddiness at the idea of usurping the crown from the very organization that won it without him?

And from there, or even earlier, he could get one more call-up to a team that continues to jockey for the American League East title and juggernaut its way to another Commissioner’s Trophy.