Saturday, July 2, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: Yankees 3, PawSox 0

Swift summation
Catcher Ryan Lavarnway led off the bottom of the seventh and final inning with a single to right field, thereby evoking Fred Flintstone’s trademark cheer via the McCoy Stadium sound system.

Apparently, that’s how desperate the PawSox were for even a sliver of satisfaction at the expense of a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees pitcher. And it was about all that they and their season-high audience of 10,111 would get.

The Yankees’ de facto closer, veteran southpaw Randy Flores, shook that off and proceeded to strike out Lars Anderson and Hector Luna. A subsequent grounder by third baseman Brent Dlugach would finalize Scranton’s 3-0 triumph, which came on top of their 7-0 victory in Part I of the doubleheader less than three hours prior.

On the day, in a span of 14 innings, the Sox utilized 12 hitters, but mustered only three hits. The first two of them came off the bat of Tony Thomas, who ultimately had to leave Game 2 after the fifth inning when he collided with Dlugach in pursuit of Greg Golson’s single.

Conversely, eight different players chalked up each of Scranton’s first eight hits on the night. By night’s end, all but the No. 9-slotted Addison Maruszak had contributed to their nine hits. The visitors’ No. 8 hitter, second baseman Doug Bernier, matched the entire Pawtucket bat rack with two hits.

What can the PawSox say? Just tip their batting helmets and call the Yankees’ pitching staff their daddy for the day.

PawSox pluses
As the Yankees continued to snowball their own bushel of hits, the PawSox’ team defense valiantly compressed the only deficit that mattered to 1-0 for as long as starter Tony Pena, Jr. was on the hill.

Pena authorized a total of nine baserunners (seven hits, two walks) through the first five innings. Yet eight of them were cut down by either one of three double-plays, a fielder’s choice, or a force-out.

But Pena’s mates could do nothing about the balk he committed in the fifth to offer Krum, fresh off a four-pitch walk, a free pass to scoring position. That brought out pitching coach Rich Sauveur on the spot.

Pena soon had runners at the corners, bailed himself out of that situation by retrieving Mike Lamb’s soft grounder and forwarding it to Lars Anderson for the third out.

Sox stains
Pena’s immediate successor, Randy Williams, struck out two, but also surrendered two extra-base hits in his first and only inning of relief work. The first of those hits was a two-run homer by Brendan Laird to inflate the previously surmountable deficit to 3-0.

Jose Iglesias represented Pawtucket’s single-best scoring chance of the night when, leading off the bottom of the sixth, he reached second base on Doug Bernier’s throwing error to first. Two plays later, now with James Kang aboard first with a walk, Iglesias squandered his gift when Scranton reliever Logan Kensing picked him off.

Cleanup man Lars Anderson struck out looking in his final at-bat of the night, just as he had done his first time up in the afternoon tilt.

The second game’s multi-strikeout club consisted of Dlugach and Matt Sheely, who whiffed on all three of his trips to the plate.

Yankees notes
Austin Krum followed through smoothly on his afternoon performance of two hits, two runs scored, and one RBI. In the nightcap, he led off the first with a walk, stole second, and scored the only run Scranton would need on Mike Lamb’s single.

For the second time in as many games, Laird curtained the scoring with a two-run homer. Pena’s last adversary, Jesus Montero, was on board with a walk to commence the sixth when Laird deposited the ball over the left field fence.

Starter George Kontos amassed four innings of work while Kensing, who logged two innings of relief, claimed credit for the win in his first decision of the season. Flores was credited with his third save.

When Thomas, who started the game in left field in lieu of the ailing Daniel Nava, led off the home half of the first, he had effectively broken up both of the Yankees’ no-hit bids on the day. And until Lavarnway singled six innings and 18 outs later, Thomas had amassed three of Pawtucket’s last four hits, dating back to the eighth inning of Friday night’s 8-4 fall to Rochester.

Thomas’ injury elicited Che-Hsuan Lin into action. Lin assumed his usual centerfield post, and thus nudged Matt Sheely to Thomas’ vacant spot in left.

Kang, recalled from Single-A Salem on Friday, made his Pawtucket debut, batting ninth and playing second base. He logged one impressive defensive highlight when he caught Dlugach’s throw, then relayed it back to Iglesias to catch Terry Tiffee out at third in a critical fourth-inning fielder’s choice.

Post-game pop-ups: Yankees 7, PawSox 0

Swift summation
Cleanup-hitting designated hitter Lars Anderson personified the PawSox’ toothlessness against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter D.J. Mitchell, who authorized only one hit and four baserunners as part of the Yankees 7-0, seven-inning victory in Part I of a Saturday doubleheader at McCoy Stadium.

After striking out on his first two tries, Anderson approached the plate once more in the sixth with a 3-0 deficit at hand, but with teammates Matt Sheely and Brent Dlugach both on base.

The sanguine sector of the Pawtucket was surely envisioning a long-awaited Anderson homer, which would have deleted the deficit and possibly turned the tables in the nick of time in the penultimate inning.

Instead, Anderson grounded out to end the inning and the Yankees wasted no time piling on four insurance runs at the expense of PawSox’ relievers Scott Atchison and Tommy Hottovy. With the cushion instantly augmented from three runs to seven, Mitchell threw a facile 1-2-3 seventh.

PawSox pluses
Atchison came on in relief of starting pitcher Brandon Duckworth and promptly benched Jesus Montero on a five-pitch strikeout, his first of four Ks in three innings-pitched.

Atchison proceeded to strand the two Yankee runners he inherited from Duckworth and chuck a 1-2-3 sixth inning, extending his shutout streak to 11.1 innings pitched, dating back four appearances to June 14. That streak was cut off when Montero catapulted a two-run homer to right-center with two out in the seventh, augmenting Scranton’s lead to 5-0.

Once again, second baseman Tony Thomas’ determination to stay up in Triple-A was unmistakable the way he performed in the dire phases of the game. He broke up Mitchell’s no-hit bid with a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth, and then wasted no time stealing second with Ronald Bermudez up. That allowed him to advance to third when Bermudez grounded out the other way.

Regrettably for Thomas, he stayed there while Luis Exposito struck out on a full count, thwarting his hope to hatch the goose-egg in the run column as well.

Sox stains
As noted previously, Anderson missed a radiant opportunity to at least hack the PawSox back into the equation in the sixth. Before that, he struck out on each of his first two tries, including a trinity of looks in the fourth. Over his three at-bats, Anderson faced 14 total pitches, including 10 for strikes. Of those strikes, he only swung at four of them.

Exposito and Bermudez also took a pair of Ks on the day.

Duckworth was done by the fifth inning upon authorizing three straight no-out singles. His transcript for the day consisted of 91 pitches, 55 strikes, seven hits, three earned runs, three strikeouts, three walks, and one wild pitch.

Yankees notes
It was a regular Lucky No. 7 afternoon for Mitchell, who has now won two starts at McCoy this season by a cumulative 17-2 score. This game, behind Part I of a twinbill, was designedly seven innings in length. Mitchell’s mates served him up seven runs to work with. And he did his part with seven strikeouts, culminating with Ronald Bermudez swinging and missing to drop the curtain.

The game was halted and restarted from scratch after only one play as the Yankees were found to have accidentally submitted their lineup card from Friday’s date with the Norfolk Tides. That spared the Sox from starting the day with a double-whammy that had Duckworth surrendering a hit to Krum and the right fielder Bermudez being charged with a throwing error as Krum hustled into second base.

Greg Golson stole second with no one out in the fifth on a 1-1 pitch to Krum, and then scored when Krum deposited the next pitch in centerfield for an RBI single and a 3-0 Scranton advantage.

Brandon Laird and Montero each belted a two-run shot, the first off of Atchison and the second off of Hottovoy, to file Mitchell’s solid insurance policy in the seventh.

Che-Hsuan Lin had a half-and-half afternoon in centerfield. He had two singles drop in front of him in the first, the second of which scored Krum from second to give Scranton the initial 1-0 edge. He then caught Laird for the second out of the fourth, but couldn’t make time to thwart Golson as he scored from second to give Scranton its third run in the fifth.

Later that inning, though, Lin caught a deep fly by Tiffee for the second out in the fifth and acted quickly enough to keep Jordan Parraz and Krum on first and second base, respectively. He then retired Laird to end the inning and strand the two Scranton runners.

Daniel Nava made the most stimulating connection off any PawSox bat in the afternoon when he pushed Parraz to the right-field warning track to catch a fly ball in the fourth. Nava later gave way to Sheely after being hit in the ankle by a pitch in the bottom of the sixth.

PawSox pitching preview

Home hurler (Game 1)
The visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees were Brandon Duckworth’s last victory victim on May 8. Five days later, they personally commenced the righty’s dry spell that has seen him lose three games and take four no-decisions in his last seven outings.

Duckworth enters today’s 4:05 start fresh off the 7-day disabled list, which he entered with an oblique strain two days after losing in Louisville. His 5.2 innings pitched that evening were the most he has mustered in a single game since his last two scraps with Scranton.

Guest starter (Game 1)
D.J. Mitchell pays his second visit to McCoy on the year and first since he buoyed a 10-2 triumph May 14. And not unlike Duckworth, he will be seeking to splash a protracted personal drought, having gone winless since June 1 with four straight losses followed by a no-decision in his last venture versus Durham last Monday.

Home hurler (Game 2)
Tony Pena, Jr. figures to make his second consecutive start, third of the year, and first against his father’s organization. As a reliever, Pena logged a cumulative seven innings, three walks, two strikeouts, two earned runs, and one save over three relief stints against the Yankees.

Speaking strictly in terms of the win column, Pena is the hottest hurler at the PawSox disposal, having won three consecutive decisions in a span of four appearances.

In his last appearance, earlier this week, Pena consumed the first five innings for a personal season high against Indianapolis, ultimately claiming credit for the 4-1 win.

Each of Pena’s three recent victories have been reaped from teams in the upper echelon of the International League. The North Division-leading Lehigh Valley entered a June 17 clash at 41-25, the Louisville Bats were 42-32 before Pena beat them June 23, and the Indians were 40-38 before last Monday.

It will be in Pawtucket’s best interest for Pena to prolong that trend this evening against Scranton, who entered Friday’s action with a 41-37 transcript and 1.5 games behind the Sox in the IL North.

Guest starter (Game 2)
George Kontos has only started one other game this year (June 13 in Syracuse) and has pitched no more than four innings in a single day. But he bears a respectable 2-0record, coupled with one save and a 2.03 ERA over an aggregate 48.2 innings-pitched.

The Yankees figure to be without first baseman Jorge Vazquez and centerfielder Justin Maxwell, who are still first and third, respectively, among International Leaguers with 20 and 16 home runs on the year. Neither slugger has played since being placed on the disabled list early last month.

On the flipside, Scranton has just reactivated catcher C.J. Pilittere, infielder Kevin Russo, and right fielder Dan Brewer all within the last four days.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: Red Wings 8, PawSox 4

Swift summation
The first of two in-game conferences between PawSox starter Felix Doubront and pitching coach Rich Sauveur worked in the immediate run. But it came a tad overdue, and its jar of benefits lacked in requisite preservatives.

For his first four out of six innings of work Thursday night, the Rochester Red Wings nibbled at Doubront like a horde of mosquitoes. The result was a 6-0 differential through four innings that eventually morphed into an 8-4 loss for the hosts at McCoy Stadium.

Doubront summoned his first session with Sauveur with one out in the third, at which point he had thrown 16 balls and 23 strikes, with only nine of them landing in catcher Ryan Lavarnway’s glove.

And he had just let men on first and second after Trevor Plouffe’s three-run blast had expanded Rochester’s lead to 4-0, on top of Dustin Martin’s leadoff bomb in the first.

As it happened, once Sauveur returned to the dugout, Doubront threw his first strikeout and Lavarnway teamed up with Luna at third to throw out Aaron Bates for a merciful, inning-ending double-play.

The following inning, Doubront benched leadoff hitter Toby Gardenhire with three-pitch K. But then, upon authorizing back-to-back doubles that augmented the deficit to 5-0, another tutoring session with Sauveur was in order.

Doubront would finish the night with seven straight retired batsmen, but not before Jeff Bailey drove Singleton home for the sixth run immediately following Sauveur’s second visit.

PawSox pluses
Suiting up for the first time in 11 days, right fielder Ronald Bermudez made a satisfactory impression. He hit a leadoff double in the third, giving Pawtucket its first runner in scoring position. He likewise doubled to lead off the fifth, and this time scored on Jose Iglesias’ subsequent single for the PawSox’ second run.

In a similar vein, second baseman Tony Thomas –who initiated two double-plays on the defensive front- didn’t show any inclination to quit in his first game back from a demotion to Portland. And his persistence proved contagious in the eighth inning, which the Sox entered with an 8-2 deficit glowering down on them.

After starting the night 0-for-3, Thomas singled to lead off the inning after an 11-pitch battle, and then stole second with Daniel Nava up. Nava and Lavarnway both walked to load the bases with still nobody out and Lars Anderson drilled a two-run single to close the gap to 8-4.

Afterwards, Brent Dlugach, the only Pawtucket player to go hitless on the night, drew a walk to reload the bases, although this time everyone would be left stranded.

Sox stains
Just to revisit Doubront’s night, the besieged lefty dropped to 0-3 on the year, losing his second decision in as many ventures and third out of his last five work days. His final tab included a season-worst 10 hits and six earned runs.

And, save for Jason Rice striking out the side on 12 pitches in the seventh, the relief effort was subpar itself. In the final two innings, Rice and Randy Williams combined to allow three walks, three singles, and two insurance runs.

As respectable as his offensive efforts have been of late, Nava’s performance in the outfield was a wholly different story. Six balls were forwarded to his property on the night, six of them for hits, and none for putouts.

Plouffe singled to left in the first. Martin did the same to him in the third, Chase Lambin in the eighth, and Bates in the ninth.

But eclipsing all of that, Nava made the brunt of the blunders in the fourth inning, wherein Rochester stretched its edge from 4-0 to 6-0. First, he failed to avert a double when Steve Singleton laced the ball to the deep end of the left field line.

Singleton would score ahead of Martin’s double and one play later, Nava couldn’t retrieve Bailey’s single quickly enough to stop Martin’s trip home from second base.

Throughout the first three games of this series, and up through the first three innings of Thursday’s bout, Nava and Hector Luna were practically riding twin streaks.

Nava singled his first time up for his seventh hit of the series, then summons a pickoff attempt during Lavarnway’s subsequent at-bat, which culminates in an inning-ending double play.

Like Nava in the previous inning, Luna deposited a one-out single to deep left in the second for his seventh hit of the series. And then, just like Nava, he tantalized Rochester pitcher Thomas Diamond into a pickoff attempt while Dlugach batted.

But then, like Nava, his efforts were vaporized when Dlugach grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Nava later struck out with two men in scoring position to end the third, but not without an earnest, valiant fight. He fouled off three consecutive payoff pitches before he finally whiffed.

Red Wings notes
Yet again, Martin was Rochester’s offensive catalyst. He just about set the earliest tone possible by belting a 2-0 pitch into the right field seats to commence the first, and proceeded to hit 3-for-4 and score three of his team’s runs while batting in another.

Gardenhire, one of only two visiting players not to reach base at any point, contributed silently to the Red Wings’ cause. With nobody out in the eighth, he sacrificed himself on a grounder to push Brian Dinkelman and Lambin into scoring position. They both promptly came home on Singleton’s single to expand the lead to 8-2.

Jim Hoey, one of three Red Wing relievers summoned to action Thursday night, survived the eighth-inning threat and garnered second win in as many decisions on the year.

The PawSox’ ties to the Great White North

On this First of July, otherwise known as Canada Day, local baseball fans ought not to forget that the late PawSox patriarch Ben Mondor was native to Quebec.

Mondor’s Northern upbringing left little room for surprise when, over the course of his three-decade tenure as Pawtucket’s team owner, he recalled his fondness for the AHL’s Providence Reds from when he originally settled in Rhode Island. (All the more fitting that, at their home opener last season, the Providence Bruins were wearing Reds jerseys when they honored Mondor with a pre-game moment of silence.)

Furthermore, though, the Pawtucket franchise as a whole can trace its roots back to Toronto. The old Toronto Maple Leafs were established in the 1880s and existed in various leagues and at various levels until 1967.

By 1965, the Leafs were a Triple-A fixture and had partnered with the Boston Red Sox as the club’s I.L. affiliate. Two years later, though, the Sox decided to transplant their farm base to Louisville, Ky., where it stayed until 1973, when it morphed into the Pawtucket Red Sox team we know today.

Here are a couple more trivial pop flies on this topic:

1. The baseball Maple Leafs left Toronto in 1967, the same year of Canada’s centennial anniversary and the year the better-known hockey team last won the Stanley Cup. Toronto has not so much as seen action in a Cup championship series since then.

2. The Canadian expatriate Mondor came to Pawtucket’s baseball rescue and assumed the ownership reins in 1977, the same year Toronto regained professional baseball in the form of the Blue Jays.

PawSox pitching preview

Home hurler
Felix Doubront seeks his first win in 11 tries this season as he wages his second battle of the year with Rochester this evening at McCoy Stadium. Previously, in his season debut on April 22, Doubront tossed three strikeouts in as many innings and allowed one hit before giving way to Kris Johnson in a 3-1 win at Frontier Field.

In his most recent outing, a 7-5 loss at Indianapolis last Sunday, Doubront logged a season-high six innings of work, but endured his second loss of the year upon allowing six runs on seven hits.

Guest starter
Like Doubront, Red Wings starter Thomas Diamond will vie to improve a personal 0-2 transcript in I.L. action this season. Although, the bulk of his 2011 game log still comes from his stint with the Pacific Coast League’s Iowa Cubs.

Diamond joined Rochester on June 20 after the parent Minnesota Twins obtained his rights, but so far, not unlike his dying days as a Cub, things have been anything but glamorous for the towering righty. His cumulative stats over 16 appearances and seven starts on the year consist of a 1-5 record, 9.06 ERA, and a .307 batting average by opposing hitters.

Diamond’s only win on the year came in the form of a relief appearance for Iowa on May 15. He made it through the sixth and seventh innings despite authorizing three earned runs on four hits as the Cubs went on to topple Reno, 14-11.

PawSox infielder Hector Luna and outfielder Daniel Nava have both belted two hits in each of the first three games in this series. They join leadoff man Che-Hsuan Lin with a team-best three-game hit streak.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 6, Red Wings 5

Swift summation
As they continued to nudge their way up to the summit of the International League’s North Division and wild card leaderboard, the PawSox repeatedly looked down and dangled victory in front of the basement-bound Rochester Red Wings. They might as well have been daredevil mountain climbers taunting a starved, frustrated puma with a savory cut of meat from close range.

But after spilling two leads, and briefly trailing, Pawtucket salvaged a 6-5 victory at McCoy Stadium Thursday night. The win briefly ties them with Durham (identical 43-36 record) for first in the wild-card standings with the Bulls still engaging the Charlotte Knights in Part II of their double-header.

Keeping with the nightlong motif, Michael Bowden curtained his second save in as many nights in a nail-biting manner. Rochester leadoff man Jair Fernandez walked, then advanced to second and third on a pair of sacrifice grounders, only to be stranded on Jeff Bailey’s 1-2-3 strikeout.

PawSox pluses
Daniel Nava put his wheels to good use in the third inning, stealing second base and hustling home from there on catcher Ryan Lavarnway’s single to grant Pawtucket a 3-0 advantage.

Lavarnway (3-for-4, two RBIs, one run) would execute two more crucial plays, one from each side of the plate. He thwarted Chase Lambin’s stealing attempt to end a brutal top half of the fourth, then homered to left-center to draw a 4-4 knot in the fifth.

Not to be left out, Hector Luna nailed two extra-base hits on the night, including a solo shot that broke the said 4-4 tie.

While safeguarding the 5-4 lead, relief pitcher Tommy Hottovoy bailed himself out of the seventh after yielding a no-outs single to Steve Singleton and walk to Jair Fernandez. After retiring Toby Gardenhire, he snagged Brandon Roberts’ grounder and relayed it back to shortstop Jose Iglesias to initiate an inning-ending double-play.

On board via a one-out walk in the eighth, Iglesias opportunistically stole second and third base, then scored on Anthony Slama’s wild pitch to make it 6-5, Pawtucket’s third lead of the night.

Sox stains
On the day he was declared Pawtucket’s only ambassador to this year’s Triple-A All-Star Game, starting pitcher Matt Fox was good for as long as he would need to be in a midsummer exhibition. He breezed through the first three innings with two strikeouts and only two baserunners.

But then, with a 3-0 lead going into the fourth, Fox authorized six consecutive baserunners before he could register the inning’s first out, which happened to be a sacrifice fly by Steve Singleton that gave the Red Wings a 4-3 edge.

Fox had no one to blame but himself for the preceding equalizer, which came by way of wild pitch when both Brian Dinkelman and Aaron Bates were in scoring position. By then, he had that on his tab along with two walks, two extra-base hits, and a throwing error all within the same inning.

Fox gave way to Hottovoy to commence the sixth. But after Hottovoy hit the showers, Hideki Okajima –who would ultimately claim credit for the win- denied himself an easy eighth and surrendered three consecutive two-out singles, the last of which had Lambin driving Bates home from second for a 5-5 game.

Elsewhere, designated hitter Luis Exposito failed to stretch a single into a double when leading off the home half of the fourth. He was likely sopped up in the aftermath of the defensive disaster in the top of that inning, thus overeager to help Pawtucket pull even.

As a team, the Sox demonstrated a startling failure to click “confirm” when could have swollen their lead much further. Pawtucket stranded nine runners within the first four innings alone and 21 total on the night. No case was more egregious than the seventh, when they loaded the bases with nobody out, only to leave everyone hanging and still with a mere 5-4 edge.

Red Wings notes
Centerfielder Dustin Martin was the jutting nuisance for Fox and the PawSox defense in the early phases of the evening. First he singled for Rochester’s only hit within the first three innings. Then on his second trip to the plate, he drove in his team’s first run while reaching safely on Fox’s throwing error and drew five pick-off attempts during Bates’ subsequent at-bat.

After Bates walked on a 3-2 ball, Martin scored from second on Dinkelman’s double with still nobody out in the fourth.

Right fielder Trevor Plouffe was ejected in the middle of the fifth after striking out for the second time in the game. He was replaced by Bailey, who whiffed himself in the top of the ninth to end the game.

PawSox pitching preview

Home hurler
Matt Fox will take a second look at his former team, which tagged him with an “L” on April 23 when the Red Wings nipped the PawSox, 9-7, at Frontier Field. Fox was shelled that night with five earned-runs on five hits, including two solo home runs, in 2.1 innings of unsuccessful relief.

Fox, who went 6-9 in 21 starts and 35 total appearances with Rochester last year, will make his 11th start and 18th overall appearance for Pawtucket Thursday evening at McCoy Stadium. Of his last two outings, both were starts that saw him post an iffy 9.00 ERA with four earned runs in 4.0 innings-pitched.

Fox is on the immediate heels of a no-decision in Indianapolis last Saturday, wherein he logged no strikeouts for the first time all season and distributed five walks before the bullpen bailed him out en route to a 6-5 win.

Fox has gone seven consecutive appearances without a decision and has yet to go more than five innings in any of his first three starts this calendar month.

On the other hand, dating back to his loss to the Wings, Fox is technically undefeated. He has put in 11 appearances since then, seven as a starter and four as a reliever, and twice defeated the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (May 5 and May 15).

Guest starter
Kyle Gibson enters Wednesday night’s start with the heftiest time sheet on Rochester’s pitching staff. He leads all active Red Wing hurlers with 81.1 innings-pitched on the year.

Yet save for a set of back-to-back wins that made him the International League’s Pitcher of the Week at the end of May, the peerless level of labor has hardly translated glamorously. Gibson (3-7) will try to avoid going winless in the month of June, wherein he has already lost four straight starts and received a no-decision in last Saturday’s 10-3 loss to Syracuse.

Gibson, a second-year pro in his first full year at the Triple-A level, has yet to face the PawSox in his career.

While Fox bookends the month by toeing the rubber today (having also made a relief appearance on June 1 versus Norfolk), the Sox as a whole will try to end June the same way they started it –with a four-game winning streak.

Should the Sox prevail on Thursday, Pawtucket will pole-vault over the loser of the Gwinnett-Louisville game for second place in the IL’s wild card leaderboard. The G-Braves and Bats enter their Thursday bout in a knot for first place and 0.5 games ahead of the PawSox.

In turn, if the PawSox can sweep the Red Wings come Friday, a split between the Braves and Bats in the remainder of their series will have the Rhode Islanders in the playoff picture.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 4, Red Wings 1

PawSox pluses
Rookie starter Kyle Weiland was his best yet all across the row as he bolstered the PawSox to a 4-1 win at McCoy Stadium Wednesday night, giving Pawtucket a winning record at home (19-18) for the first time since May 11.

Ironically, on that date, Weiland took the L-shaped albatross against Gwinnett as Pawtucket fell to 8-8 in front of its faithful followers. But now, he along with the home PawSox are both supra-.500 again as his personal transcript improved to 7-6.

Weiland surpassed his own longevity mark by pitching an even eight innings. On only one other occasion (May 23 at Toledo) has he worked beyond the sixth.

Tonight, he allowed one run on one hit, namely an RBI single by Dustin Martin in the sixth. He went without throwing a single walk for the first time in any of his 16 Triple-A starts. And of the 24 outs he recorded, half were strikeouts, resetting his bar from the 10 Ks he logged against Syracuse on April 14.

After the Red Wings pulled even with their lone run in the sixth, it didn’t take long for Pawtucket to perk up and wrest the game a little more safely out of reach. The team batted around in the home half of the same stanza, ultimately chasing starter Eric Hacker off the mound with only two outs in the books.

Fifth-slotted third baseman Hector Luna, who logged two hits and two runs scored was the singular firestarter for the PawSox offense. He would be involved in the game’s two most critical scoring plays, and the only two that came by way of swinging the bat and running.

Luna led off the third with a single to centerfield, proceeded to steal second, then scored on Luis Exposito’s base hit to grant the hosts the initial 1-0.

And then, in the sixth, Luna led off with his second homer in as many nights and seventh on the season to renew the edge at 2-1.

That play stood as the decider. But when Hacker was removed after getting the next two outs, the Sox passively exploited reliever Carlos Guttierez and were rewarded with a strong insurance policy. Exposito and Lin sandwiched Jose Iglesias’ single with a walk apiece. Afterwards, Guttierez walked Nava and hit Ryan Lavarnaway to force in the two bonus runs.

In relief of Weiland, Michael Bowden let down the curtain with two strikeouts of his own, although he did push his luck a little by letting Martin on with a walk and authorizing a two-out single by Brian Dinkelman.

Sox stains
You knew there had to be at least a mild catch to a PawSox pitching gem. Weiland hit three Rochester batters this evening –Danny Lehmann in both the third and the sixth and Martin in the fourth. Lehmann’s second HBP amounted to the Red Wings’ only run when he advanced to second on a passed ball, then went home on Martin’s aforementioned single.

Translation: three out of the Red Wings four baserunners on Weiland’s tab were due to the pitcher hitting the batter rather than the conventional vice versa.

Elsewhere, cleanup man Lars Anderson had an outstanding off-night. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and stranded a cumulative eight teammates as each of his at-bats wound up being a third out.

Here’s a summation of that debacle: Anderson popped out to end the first inning with Daniel Nava aboard, struck out to cap off a scoreless third with Igeslias and Che-Hsuan Lin both on, whiffed yet again for the third out of the fifth to leave Nava and Lavarnway hanging, and lined out with the bases loaded in the sixth.

The only other Pawtucket hitter with neither a run-scored, hit, or RBI on the night was Yamaico Navarro.

PawSox pitching preview

Home hurler
Pawtucket rookie Kyle Weiland will vie for his third pair of consecutive wins this season as he wages his third start against the Rochester Red Wings tonight.

He previously lost at home in his Triple-A debut on April 8, authorizing four earned runs and seven hits in a mere three innings-pitched. His immediate successor, Tony Pena, didn’t fare much better in the subsequent three innings, wherein the Red Wings tacked on three more runs on six hits en route to a 7-2 triumph.

On an April 24 visit to Frontier Field, Weiland garnered credit for a 9-3 win, maintaining a one-hit shutout until Rochester catcher Rene Rivera led off the bottom of the sixth with a home run.

Weiland finished that night with a line of 6.0 IP, two hits, one earned run, two walks, and three strikeouts.

More recently, Weiland has lasted at least 5.0 innings in each of his last 10 games, but no more in each of the last two.

For the second time this season, Weiland will be opposed by Eric Hacker, who claimed credit for the “W” in the aforementioned April 8 card.

Guest starter
Hacker is coming off one of his better outings of the year with Rochester, a 7-2 triumph last Thursday over the visiting Charlotte Knights that snapped his personal three-game losing streak and gave him his third winning decision of the year.

Hacker’s only other win on the year, an 8-0 whitewash of Toledo June 2, was patently his best yet. He lasted an even six innings while only allowing four hits, although he also yielded four additional baserunners by way of the walk.

Each of Hacker’s last two winning efforts has seen him log a season-high six strikeouts. In his previous visit to McCoy, he whiffed five PawSox in as many innings-pitched, including Drew Sutton twice. And he allowed a mere two hits, both of them doubles that merely amounted to a stranded runner in the fourth and fifth stanza.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 8, Red Wings 6

PawSox pluses
Second baseman Brent Dlugach was the most vital offensive performer in the PawSox’ epic rally Tuesday night, which saw them surmount a 6-0 pothole en route to an 8-6 win over the Rochester Red Wings at McCoy Stadium.

The No. 7-slotter’s feats wrapped up an important fourth inning that proved Pawtucket had a life and commenced a seventh stanza that ultimately saw the hosts usurp the lead.

Four unanswered hits, which plated two runs and summoned a conference on the Rochester mound, immediately thawed out the PawSox’ bat rack in the home half of the fourth. Bystanding baserunners Ryan Lavarnaway and Lars Andersen watched as their next two teammates went down, and then ran home on Dlugach’s straightaway single to cut the deficit to 6-4.

On his next plate appearance, Dlugach led off the bottom of the seventh with a homer to pull Pawtucket even, 6-6. Four hitters later, Daniel Nava sent Che-Suan Lin home from first with a distant double to right field.

Dlugach also made a potentially game-altering move in the defensive half of the third, when he carried out a fielder’s choice to cut down Chase Lambin for the first out of the inning. Rochester went on to leave two runners stranded in scoring position, meaning Dlugach’s deftness all but indubitably stopped the Wings from swelling their 5-0 lead.

Sox stains
Veteran Kevin Millwood is the only rostered Pawtucket pitcher with a complete game on his 2011 transcript. And that was from his preceding stint with the rival Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Yet in Tuesday night’s triumph, the bullpen and offense had to salvage Millwood’s goose-egg in his PawSox “L” column, allowing him to finish the month of June at 3-0 in six starts.

Millwood’s four-inning night was the briefest and most brutal since he debuted at McCoy Stadium four weeks to date, when he withstood 2.2 innings while authorizing four earned runs on five hits.

On Tuesday, he exceeded all of those numbers with six earned runs on nine hits and equated his season-worst 13.50 ERA. In addition, the visiting Red Wings logged a team batting average of .450, topping the .385 success rate the Norfolk Tides chalked up against Millwood on June 1.

Since winning three straight starts after that Norfolk debacle, never posting a single-game ERA over 1.80 in that span, Millwood’s patchiness has been on a premium display.

There are exceptions to that trend, and at least one encouraging sign that he is replenishing his old form. Although he has only garnered one decision in his last three starts, Millwood has at least tuned up his strikeout count in that span.

Whiffing six Red Wings in the four innings he pitched Tuesday night gives him 19 Ks over his last 17.2 innings of work. This coming after he only mustered 11 in his first three starts with Pawtucket.

Before being drubbed for five runs in the second inning, Millwood started the night by striking out the side in the first, albeit with two singles interspersed.

And immediately before he was benched for the evening, he bagged a little self-serve mercy in the top of the fourth. After Trevor Plouffe led off with a home run to expand Rochester’s lead to 6-0, he sandwiched Aaron Bates’ ground out with a pair of Ks to Dustin Martin and Brian Dinkelman.

Of those working behind Millwood, no one had a more laborious second inning than Lin in centerfield. As Rochester batted around, five of their nine hitters directed the ball to Lin’s property.

Lin snagged lead-off man Chase Lambin’s liner and caught Brandon Roberts’ sacrifice fly. But the latter play allowed Tony Gardenhire to score and grant Rochester a 3-0 lead. Two plays later, Plouffe scored from first on a Martin double that Lin couldn’t collect in time.

After Millwood left, the likes of Jason Rice, Scott Atchison, and Randy Williams combined to allow but two hits in five full innings.

Atchison improved to 3-1 on the year, picking up his second win in as many appearances. Two swinging strikeouts in a one-two-three seventh gave him six Ks in those two winning efforts and at least one in each of his last nine outings.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Personal column: Summing up one man’s impact

Want to know what the air will feel like around Boston University when Jack Parker ultimately hangs up his whistle? (And that will happen at some point, as inconceivable as it is.)

I would suggest you consult anybody at my alma mater on that. They must have a spot-on idea right now.

Over this past weekend, John Sumner officially retired after precisely four decades in various capacities at Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep, an academic and athletic powerhouse in southern Minnesota that has produced over a dozen NHLers among others illustrious alumni.

When I enrolled at Shattuck as a sophomore in late August 2004, Sumner offered me an immediate morsel of comfort that no one else could in that time and setting.

Like me, he was a New England native and devout Red Sox fan even after his life had since taken him the uncharted plains of the Midwest. In a most timely fashion, his presence gave me someone with whom to share my cathartic jubilation when the Sox carried out their Curse-cracking playoff run that same autumn.

Then again, who was I to be seeking such a thing? I only had to live through Grady Little and Aaron Boone before the Sox turned their historical tables. Sumner has that on top of a bittersweet blend complete with the Impossible Dream, Bucky Dent, and 1986.

In any case, Sumner’s superior seasoning as a sports enthusiast shows up all the more in the way he embraced and helped to revolutionize the culture of one Minnesota prep school.

As a multisport coach and athletic director, Sumner saw the hockey program expand from an average, one-team statewide competitor to a megalopolis of eight teams testing themselves on a national platform. Not long after that, he along with the rest of the administration approved proposals to mutate the SSM soccer program in a similar manner.

The long-term result, strictly in terms of hockey, was a sheet of ice (and now two sheets) fertile enough to attract and hone such rising stars as Ty Conklin, Zach Parise, Drew Stafford, Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Toews, Derek Stepan, Jocelyne Lamoureux, and Monique Lamoureux.

But that wasn’t exactly the way Sumner found it. Nor would it be for about two more decades.

Perhaps I should put this into context for those readers who are lifelong New England residents. Sumner’s tenure at SSM began 11 months before Bobby Orr won his second and final Stanley Cup with the Bruins. It began a full two years before the aforementioned Parker assumed the position of head hockey coach at BU and Providence College christened its new ice house, Schneider Arena.

Sumner himself was the master of ceremonies when SSM dedicated its new arena Oct. 14, 2005. He was just on the heels of relinquishing his protracted reign as the school’s athletic director (opting for a shuffle to alumni relations) and announcing his long-awaited return to coaching as an assistant on SSM’s top-level Bantam team.

That particular year, my second as an SSM student, was likewise revolutionary on my front. Having utilized my first full year to make an impression on the school’s compact community, I had just established myself as what some simply termed “the journalist of the school.”

I had not obtained permission to cover these elite athletic programs in a fashion not previously carried out by a student-journalist, as was my initial goal. Rather, I was outright invited to attend and write up as many events as I pleased and granted nearly unlimited access to players and coaches.

I will confess I was doing it chiefly for myself. I had to launch my career somehow, and I wanted my early projects and regimen to be as authentically professional as possible.

At the same time, though, Shattuck sports clearly craved publicity, and few people stressed that perpetual appetite as regularly and eagerly as Sumner did. Upon dusting off his whistle to join the Bantam coaching staff, he never hesitated to tip me about a noteworthy player or achievement on his team.

And unlike the Division I college or professional levels, a good, resourceful website is hard to find when covering youth sports. But Sumner knew when an ink-worthy team was coming to campus, and he never failed to offer me advanced notice.

Even if he hadn’t bothered to directly influence my coverage of the Shads and Saints, I would still be indebted to Sumner simply for the instrumental role he played in elevating the hockey program to its unique posture. An aspiring sports reporter could not ask for much better training grounds than what the news-making athletes and coaches produce at Shattuck. To say that they prepared me well for my subsequent gigs covering Providence College and Hockey East would be to trivialize the matter.

And lucky me, the breadth of SSM hockey alumni, all of whom appreciate Sumner’s influence as much as I do, continuously extends to New England. In turn, at any given time over the last four years, I was covering at least one alum on a regular basis, thus giving Sumner a reason to keep following my work.

I can only speak for myself, but knowing that a guy like Sumner continues to monitor the path I started on at Shattuck ought to hold the same sway on me that it does on all of the athletic alums. It motivates you to represent the institution he helped to foster from its humble origins.

It’s the least anybody can do to offer him a fun, fulfilling retirement, right?

Al Daniel can be reached at