Thursday, July 21, 2011

Many opportunities lost, but not all, for PawSox in fall to IronPigs

On the whole, Pawtucket Red Sox rooters should be pleased in the present and stimulated going forward. After all, within the last four nights, their team has effectively sawed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs lead in the International League North.

It is naturally disconcerting that the PawSox didn’t let their appetite to pull even in the standings carry them far enough for a sweep when the opportunity came after pulling to within one game with wins Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

They had earned themselves that opportunity for extra gains in this midweek series and they whiffed in vinegary fashion Thursday night. They spilled 2-0 and 3-2 leads en route to the 5-4 loss at McCoy Stadium that bumped them back to two games behind.

With that being said, there is abundant reason to believe the momentum is with the trailers as this two-team derby presses on into the last 52 games of the season.

With the titans raring to converge again next Tuesday through Friday at Coca-Cola Park to polish off their 16-game season series, the PawSox will need at least a sweep, or better yet three out of four to make a come-from-behind divisional title plausible. But arguably, now more than at any other point in the 2011 season, that scenario should not come off as so off-putting.

The primal postgame topic Thursday night easily could have been the nine men the PawSox left on base when they could have regained their lead or added to it. Or it could have been Hideki Okajima’s game-changing implosion in relief that amounted to his fifth blown save and first loss on the year. Or it could have been the lack of production out of heart-based batters Lars Anderson (0-for-5 and a game-ending pop-out) and Drew Sutton (1-for-4).

Instead, most of the attention was drawn unto shortstop Jose Iglesias, who sparkled in his first game back from a concussion sustained via Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitcher Andrew Backman’s errant throw that left him concussed July 3.

Iglesias’ return lasted longer than originally slated as he consumed seven innings worth of defensive action, having a hand in nine putouts. None of those were more dynamic than one he pulled off in the sixth, when he threw out a hot-hitting Delwyn Young upon bolting to the second base bag and consuming the grounder for the second out of the inning.

Meanwhile, he joined four other teammates in the evening’s multi-hit club.

Iglesias did nothing but set a promising tone in his return just in time for the homestretch. And he is hardly alone amongst relatively new PawSox inserts making an impact.

Sutton saw action in only his second game back from a protracted promotion to Boston. Nearly concomitant with Iglesias’ return, his reinstatement to manager Arnie Beyler’s clubhouse makes for a welcome overload of capable infielders.

And barring another summons to The Show, Sutton ought to be available the rest of the way, an enticing proposition given he is one of only two active Pawtucket players to at least be hovering around the range of a .300 batting average.

The other? Duh, Ryan Lavarnway. The radiant rookie has now seen action in 35 games since he was promoted from Double-A Portland on June 13. In that time, he has gone on an unremitting sugar rush for 49 hits, a dozen doubles, a dozen dingers and 33 RBIs. If he hasn’t let up yet, odds are he will only cool off to a negligible degree between now and when the playoff picture develops on Labor Day.

And in his presence, the PawSox are 22-13, whereas they were 33-31 prior to his debut. That includes a 6-2 run against the IronPigs, who split a four-game set at Lehigh Valley while Lavarnway was still an afterthought most anywhere south of Maine.

Similarly, the likes of centerfielder Che-Hsuan Lin and right fielder Ronald Bermudez have climbed up the Red Sox rungs to McCoy this spring and summer, subsequently contributing to the hotter part of Pawtucket’s season.

With a pair of singles in Thursday’s loss, Lin has a seven-game hitting streak in the works, including three multi-hit outings against the top dog IronPigs, who committed three errors in the winning effort for a total of eight in the last three games.

And much like Josh Reddick with the parent club, Bermudez’s performance in right field and from the lower third of the batting order has all but negated initial plans to reassigned him to Single-A.

Although the PawSox still rank No. 11 in the 14-team I.L. in terms of team batting average, they are No. 4 (188) in the way of total doubles, RBIs (458) and runs-scored (458). And only the Columbus Clippers have drawn more walks on the year.

On the other side of the ball, Pawtucket ranks second behind only Gwinnett in team ERA (3.57). The likewise trail only the G-Braves with 804 cumulative strikeouts. And the staff has combined for a league-low with only 777 runs-allowed.

The return of Kyle Weiland, who still has a team-best eight wins on the year, is likely contingent upon the health of Boston’s aces. But with or without him, the PawSox still have a corps bolstered by midseason acquisition in Kevin Millwood, whose performances are improving and whose record is 5-0 since being claimed off waivers from the Yankees system.

All the while, the best that first-place Lehigh Valley can hope for in its season series is a split.

If that is somehow achieved, then it would threaten to drown the active talks of these teams reconvening for the first round of the Governor’s Cup playoffs. (The matchup would be inevitable if both parties make the dance as it is already predetermined that the wild card winner will face the North Division champion in the semifinals.)

In that event, the bubble is virtually burst and that’s that. Otherwise, the peaking PawSox are in a position to tighten their stranglehold on the IronPigs’ psyche next week.

Post-game pop-ups: IronPigs 5, PawSox 4

Swift summation
Ryan Lavarnway was in a perfect position to make the McCoy Stadium masses forget everything that had happened since his usual self mysteriously vanished after the first inning as he approached the dish in the ninth.

Regrettably for the home faithful, though, old friend Brandon Moss raced to the perfect position to spoil everything. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs outfielder who played parts of the 2007 and 2008 seasons in Pawtucket snagged Lavarnway’s low-flying shot to the left field corner, averting a home run and salvaging a 5-4 edge for his current mates.

Immediately thereafter, Lars Anderson popped out to Kevin Frandsen at the third base foul line to finalize Pawtucket’s fall-from-ahead 5-4 falter Thursday night.

The loss spoiled the Sox’ bid for a four-game sweep that would have rendered them tied with the IronPigs for first place in the International League North. Instead, they are two games behind on that leaderboard and knotted with the Gwinnett Braves for tops in the wild card derby.

Lavarnway had homered to left-center to give the PawSox a 2-0 lead with one out in the first. It was his fifth dinger against the IronPigs and the sixth Lehigh Valley starter Ryan Feierabend has surrendered to a Pawtucket challenger this year.

But Lavarnway struck out swinging in each of his next two encounters with Feierabend. By the time Lavarnway was benched for the second time in the fifth, the Pigs had deleted the deficit thanks to Josh Barfield’s RBI single in the second inning and Rich Thompson’s solo homer in the fifth.

Luis Exposito lined a single into shallow right to score Hector Luna from third and renew Pawtucket’s upper hand, 3-2, in the bottom of the sixth. But two plays later, with Exposito and Ronald Bermudez both on board, Feierabend gave way to Joe Savery and the IronPigs bullpen proceeded to tantalize the PawSox.

Between the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, Pawtucket mustered one run while stranding a cumulative four runners. Meanwhile, Lehigh Valley perked up in the top of the eighth to usurp the lead.

Moss drew another knot with a sacrifice fly to score Frandsen from third with only one away in the frame. Pete Orr, who had sent Frandsen to third with a double, stayed on second momentarily before Delwyn Young carried him home with a two-run shot that gave the visitors a 5-3 upper hand.

PawSox pluses
Jose Iglesias played seven innings in his first appearance since a concussion sustained 18 days prior and his itch to contribute again translated unmistakably. From his shortstop post, Iglesias had a hand in nine of the defense’s first 19 putouts, including each of the first three and six of the first eight.

At the dish, Iglesias went 2-for-3 with a not-so-reprehensible lineout to right field in the second, followed by two assertive singles in the fourth and the sixth. He would give way to Nate Spears to start the eighth.

Lately, Luna has made himself somewhat of a regular under the “Sox stains” heading of this sight. And he was inevitably bumped down a slot in the batting order with the return of Drew Sutton on Wednesday.

But to his credit, Luna accelerated his wheels on Thursday, good enough to earn a pair of extra-base hits, those being a leadoff double in the second and a triple in the sixth that amounted to Pawtucket’s go-ahead run.

Bermudez’s patience at the plate paid off multiple times Thursday night. In the second, he drew a walk on a payoff pitch. In the sixth, he fouled off a pair of 0-2 pitches, took two balls, and then reached first on a fielding error. He likewise fought off two potential third strikes in the eighth before grounding into a sacrifice that nudged Exposito to third.

Sox stains
Tasked with safeguarding Tony Pena, Jr.’s would-be win with a 3-2 lead to commence the eighth inning, Hideki Okajima surrendered as many hits (four) in one inning as Pena had in seven. Along the way, the aforementioned 3-2 edge devolved into a 5-3 deficit.

Okajima was ultimately charged with a blown save and endured his first loss in six overall decisions on his 2011 transcript.

As much as the PawSox pounced on Lehigh Valley’s iffy pitching and fielding (three errors) for a cumulative 15 baserunners on the night, they could have done more, as evidenced the nine men they left stranded.

In the second, Luna and Bermudez were left in scoring position when they might have augmented the 2-0 lead but instead watched Daniel Nava pop out. Che-Hsuan Lin left men on both first and second twice in as many at-bats when he struck out swinging to end the fourth and the sixth. And in the seventh, Luna grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

IronPigs notes
Young and Barfield were the only Lehigh Valley players with a multi-hit game.

Savery took credit for the win, improving to 2-0 on the year. Mike Zagurski took over for the eighth while Justin De Fratus breezed through the ninth to garner the hold and the save, respectively.

Miscellany
Both teams left the bases loaded in their respective turns at bat in the second and then exchanged 1-2-3 stanzas in the third.

Spears, who pinch-hit in the eighth, was the only Pawtucket offensive player who didn’t reach base safely at any point in Thursday’s game. However, he did hit a fruitful grounder to the first base that sent Exposito home on the sacrifice.

While Iglesias was welcomed back to the active roster, outfielder Matt Sheely was placed on the weeklong disabled list, retroactive to Wednesday, with what is being billed a foot contusion.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Walk-off hit carries on favorable trends for Lin, PawSox

When Che-Hsuan Lin uncorked a shallow single to bring home Wednesday afternoon’s winning run in the form of Nate Spears, he also popped open a can of clich├ęs.

The two most prominent items that lurked with carbonation near the surface were the likes of “third time’s a charm” for himself and “all good things must come to an end” for a couple of pitchers.

Entering Lin’s confrontation with Lehigh Valley IronPigs hurler Michael Schwimer, though, the big question on the latter matter was “Which of those good trends would halt and at whose expense?”

The bottom of the ninth inning all but constituted the eleventh hour for Lin’s five-game hitting streak, and perhaps the PawSox perfect 9-0 transcript in Millwood starts. Meanwhile, Schwimer had a sparkling 5-0 record on his season when he entered the game to commence the eighth, at which point a 1-1 draw had stood unruffled for four straight innings.

Immediately before Schwimer had come into the equation, Lin had squandered two previous opportunities to snap the 1-1 knot. In the bottom of the fifth, Hector Luna and Ronald Bermudez were on the corners with two away when Lin grounded to IronPigs shortstop Brian Bocock, who collaborated with second baseman Josh Barfield to tag Bermudez.

Two innings later, Luis Exposito was on board with a one-out walk, only to be stranded when Bermudez flied out and Lin popped out to Kevin Frandsen along the first-base line.

On the other hand, the PawSox were heavily indebted to Lin just for bringing the long-standing 1-1 draw into existence and for keeping it out of Lehigh Valley’s hands for a full five-and-a-half innings. Exposito led off the home half of the third with a double and nimbly advanced to third when Bermudez belted a sacrifice fly to left.

Enter Lin, batting for the first time since he reached on a fielding error and then failed to score from first base on Daniel Nava’s double when he was thwarted at the plate.

This time, Lin lobbed a 1-1 offering from Nate Bump to left field, where it was caught by Brandon Moss, but deep enough for Exposito to sprint home. In a daylong plethora of long-distance teases off Pawtucket bats, Lin’s would be the only productive one.

At his centerfield defensive post, Lin made amends for another first-inning blunder wherein he couldn’t quite ensnare Pete Orr’s bloop to the shallow area. In another three opportunities over the course of the day, he put out three IronPigs with routine catches.

The magnitude of each of those plays was dwarfed, though, by a key assist in top of the ninth. Reliever Jeremy Kerht, tasked with salvaging Kevin Millwood’s relative gem when he came out of the bullpen the previous inning, allowed back-to-back singles with only one out.

His subsequent challenger, Kevin Frandsen, repelled a 1-0 delivery to the centerfield warning track. But Lin, who had to hustle out of his unorthodox position in the shallow outfield, managed to snatch it before the wall.

Baserunners Bocock and Rich Thompson both opted to tag and make a break for scoring position. But Lin alertly hurled the ball back to Luna at third base. Although that throw fell just shy of cutting down Bocock, Luna was equally apt to relay the ball to second baseman Drew Sutton, who tagged Thompson for an inning-ending double-play.

With the one-all knot still intact, Lin was ultimately summoned as the fifth Pawtucket batter in the bottom half. His opposite-field connection constituted his 10th his now-six-game tear, improved the PawSox to 10-0 in Millwood starts and gave them their third consecutive triumph over the I.L. North-leading IronPigs.

In those three wins, Lin has played a direct role in every deciding inning. On Monday night, he led off the third with a single and scored the first run ahead of a double by Ryan Lavarnway, who scored himself to make it 2-0 en route to a 4-1 victory. On Tuesday, Lin scored the go-ahead run in the sixth to bust a 3-2 knot and set Pawtucket off to a 7-2 win.

The Sox needed one more win, whether it was Wednesday or Thursday, to ensure that the contesting teams leave McCoy Stadium Thursday night with a slimmer gap in the standings than when they initially convened on Monday.

None other than the streaking Lin made that possible. The PawSox now trail Lehigh Valley by one game going into Thursday’s series finale.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 2, IronPigs 1

Swift summation
By the time Che-Hsuan Lin approached the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday afternoon, he had an opportunity to hatch two noteworthy goose-eggs while salvaging another.

Although Lin was credited with the PawSox only RBI on the day, having sent Luis Exposito home from third in the third on a sacrifice fly, he was one of only 18 total contesting batters with no hits in the game. Meanwhile, with Nate Spears and Exposito on base and a 1-1 tie at hand, Lehigh Valley IronPigs reliever Michael Schwimer’s 5-0 record was in jeopardy.

As it happened, Lin dropped Schwimer’s payoff pitch the opposite way into shallow right, sending Spears home for a walkoff 2-1 triumph at McCoy Stadium. With that, in addition to breaking his own zero in the day’s hit column and Schwimer’s under the 2011 “L” heading, Lin effectively improved Pawtucket to 10-0 when Kevin Millwood starts on the mound.

It was a regular bend-don’t-break outing for the veteran hurler. Of the game’s first seven hits, five were singles by the IronPigs whereas the PawSox hit for two sets of extra bases via Daniel Nava and Exposito in the first and third innings, respectively.

Hector Luna effectively bucked that trend with a leadoff single in the bottom of the fifth that could have been a double if Luna were a gambler.

And while none of Lehigh Valley’s first six hits were for extra bases, a prolific second inning saw them whittle three worthwhile base hits off of Millwood. Josh Barfield nailed the first of those, advanced to third on a subsequent hit-and-run with Cody Overbeck, and came home for an initial 1-0 lead with the help of Brian Bocock’s bunt single.

Meanwhile, 13 of Pawtucket’s 24 batters to face IronPigs starter Nate Bump lobbed the ball into the outfield. The IronPigs defense was responsive and repressive most of the time, but Exposito did muster a run after his double was followed by a pair of sacrifice flies courtesy of Ronald Bermudez and Lin.

PawSox pluses
In seven innings of confrontation, the IronPigs could only nibble at Millwood in moderation and in sparse instances. Save for the three singles and run he allowed in the third, along with an iffy seventh where he allowed his first extra-base hit and issued his only walk, the veteran pitcher gave the visitors no enticing opportunities. He charged up back-to-back 1-2-3 segments in the third and fourth innings and bailed himself out of the seventh by thrusting a called third strike past Kevin Frandsen for his fifth K of the day.

Two full days out of action seemed to benefit Nava, who in his first at-bat nailed his first extra-base hit in 14 appearances, his previous two-bagger having come on June 29 versus Rochester. He later hit an assertive liner that was caught by right fielder Delwyn Young and then dropped a leadoff single on Young’s property in the eighth. Regrettably for him, Nava was stranded after both of his hits, left on third base in the opening stanza and on first in the eighth.

With two IronPigs aboard and only one out in the ninth, Lin caught Kevin Frandsen’s fly just shy of the warning track, then relayed the ball to Luna, who subsequently forwarded it to second-baseman Drew Sutton to end the threat.

Sox stains
Lin’s afternoon will put mixed reviews on his transcript. After leading off the bottom of the first by reaching on Barfield’s fielding error, he was overeager when Nava doubled to the centerfield warning track and paid when he was thrown out at the plate. Seeing as runs proved difficult to reap as the day wore on, it would have been just fine for the PawSox to be patient and have two men in scoring position with no outs early on. Lin also stranded a cumulative three runners with outs in the fifth and seventh.

Reliever Jeremy Kerht succeeded Millwood for the eighth and threw seven of his first eight pitches for balls, including a hit-batsman in leadoff man Pete Orr. Over the next few plays, Orr stole second and was given a free break for third on Kerht’s wild pitch to Barfield, whom he walked on a payoff pitch. He ultimately averted the threat by getting Overbeck to chase a third strike, but by inning’s end had still thrown less than 50 percent strikes (12 out of 25 total tosses).

Ryan Lavarnway, who had a rare 0-for-4 outing, was not exactly reprehensible in his first three at-bats. But with Nava on board and nobody out with a 1-1 tie at hand in the eighth, he paid for his excess passiveness. Lavarnway jumped out to a 3-0 count against Lehigh Valley reliever Michael Schwimer, then looked at two straight strikes and fouled off two more offerings before whiffing and returning to the dugout.

IronPigs notes
With his RBI bunt in the second and a fifth-inning single, the No. 9-hitting Bocock was the first participant to log multiple hits in the game. He earned a third single by way of a popup dropped by Sutton in the ninth.

Though uncharacteristically unproductive at the plate until his ninth-inning single, Rich Thompson had an eventful day in centerfield. He initiated the relay play that nailed Lin in the first and caught five fly balls over the first four innings.

Catcher Dane Sardinha entered the game with a watered-down .086 batting average, yet mustered the team’s first extra-base hit with a one-out double to the left-field corner in the seventh.

Only two of Lehigh Valley’s nine hits came from the upper echelon of the batting order. Those were Orr’s first-inning single and Thompson’s ninth-inning infield hit.

Miscellany
Sutton, who was reassigned from Boston on Monday, put in his first Triple-A appearance since June 16 and only his third since May 19. It is his first lick of game action overall since he pinch-ran and garnered two at-bats in Sunday night’s 16-inning marathon at Tropicana Field.

After going 1-for-4 on the day, Sutton had a .300 batting average in 40 games with the PawSox, making him the only active member of the team in the .300 range, besides the radiant Lavarnway.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 7, IronPigs 2

Swift summation
Maybe two is better than one. You think?

Whatever leadoff man Rich Thompson cultivated for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Che-Hsuan Lin and Ryan Lavarnway were quick to counter in better quantities as they paced the PawSox to a 7-2 victory at McCoy Stadium Tuesday night.

Thompson was the lone IronPig with a multi-hit outing, and he made the most of them both. With Brian Bocock on board with a two-out walk in the third, he drove in the game’s first run with a double that barely eluded Lin’s trapper along the centerfield wall.

But in an appetizer of eye-for-eye justice, Lin led off the bottom of the fourth with a single to Thompson’s property in center, advanced to second on a botched pickoff attempt, then was nudged to third on Nate Spears’ sacrifice grounder.

Lavarnway subsequently sent Lin home on a double, then usurped the lead for Pawtucket with the help of Lars Anderson’s own two-bagger.

For the second straight night, the top four constituents of the PawSox batting order accounted for all of the decisive scoring plays. And after Thompson singled to lead off the sixth and deleted the 2-1 deficit when he came home on a fielder’s choice, Lin and Lavarnway went to work again in the home half.

Lin deposited yet another leadoff single and swiftly renewed Pawtucket’s lead ahead of Spears’ single, which morphed into a virtual double courtesy of another IronPigs throwing error.

Lavarnway stepped up next and carried Spears home with a towering dinger to left-center, augmenting the edge to 5-2.

In the bottom of the eighth, Spears and Lavarnway would cross the plate once more to stamp the insurance and finalize the 7-2 upshot. Hector Luna’s infield single, which sent Lavarnway home from third, allowed the No. 5-slotted hitter to belatedly join the evening’s production club.

PawSox pluses
What was he so worried about? Before making a rare start at the shortstop post, versatile fielder Spears expressed his doubts about his capabilities in that particular position. Yet his outing included initiating a double-play for the first two outs of the second innings and being the middle man in an important center-to-short-to-third relay that culminated in Luna tagging Thompson to end the third.

But the magnitude of those plays paled in comparison to one in the fifth, when Spears fielded Cody Overbeck’s grounder and used it to deny Josh Barfield’s bid to score from third for the second out of the fifth, preserving the PawSox’ 2-1 lead for the moment.

His results were not quite as glamorous as those of some of his teammates, but Lars Anderson was certainly punishing the ball with sufficient assertion Tuesday night. He just missed homering in each of his first two plate-appearances, flying out to the left-center warning track on the first pitch of the fourth and putting Pawtucket ahead, 2-1, with a double that sent Lavarnway home from second. In his third at-bat in the sixth, Anderson flied out to deep center, just shy of the warning track,. And in the eighth, he nudged Spears home on an RBI single to make it a 6-2 advantage.

Lin extended his hitting streak to five games upon singling to lead off the fourth. By the time he deposited another base hit to commence the home half of the sixth, he had logged a pair of singles and a run-scored for the second straight night.

Jason Rice was the lone pitcher on either side with a genuinely commendable performance Tuesday. He was summoned with no outs and two baserunners on board in the eighth and proceeded to retire each of the last six Lehigh Valley batters, three of them by way of the strikeout.

Sox stains
Starter Felix Doubront unwillingly explained himself when he apparently re-aggravated a hamstring ailment sustained in Portland last week. That ended his night after 4.1 so-so innings-pitched, the first of which were much more sparkling than those that followed.

Doubront went from a pair of easy 1-2-3 frames with no pitches redirected into the outfield to letting six of his next nine challengers lob the ball far. Three of those resulted in doubles, the only three hits the starter allowed. And 21 out of his final 46 pitches were balls.

In relief, neither Scott Atchison nor Clevelan Santeliz contributed much to the 2011 bullpen’s scrapbook. They each recorded a hit-batsman and Santeliz, who was forked out in the eighth after hitting Kevin Frandsen and walking Delwyn Young with nobody out, finished his quick shift with 16 balls and only 19 strikes.

IronPigs notes
Bocock reaped four throw-outs within the first five innings from his post at shortstop and sparkled on both sides of the ball in the third inning. In the top half, he scored the game’s first run upon executing a perfect hit-and-run that allowed him to go home from first ahead of Thompson’s double. In the home half, he fielded Luis Exposito’s leadoff grounder and initiated a double-play that abolished PawSox runner Ronald Bermudez and batter Matt Sheely.

Brian Bass stayed on duty for a full seven innings in his third start against Pawtucket this season. Despite being roughed up by the opponent’s top four batters, he held the bottom five hitless, logged six strikeouts and authorized only one walk.

Justin De Fratus succeeded Bass for a less-than-memorable eighth from an IronPig perspective. De Fratus’ tab included a walk, two runs, two hits, a passed ball by battery-mate Erik Kratz and a wild pitch.

Miscellany
One night after the PawSox blemished their own defensive mug with three errors, Lehigh Valley committed its own troika of blunders Tuesday night. Two of them, both committed by the third-baseman Frandsen in a simple throwing attempt, allowed Spears to reach base in the sixth and eighth innings.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Despite inconsistent presence, Thomas consistently chipping in

So far as his official game log is concerned, PawSox infielder Tony Thomas is on a hot streak.

The run may be interspersed with a brief demotion, a little time on the disabled list, a league-wide respite, and one night off to make room for a rehabbing Major Leaguer in the lineup. Nonetheless, the fact is that Thomas has logged nine hits over his last seven games with Pawtucket.

Most recently, amidst a pair of muggings at the hands of the Durham Bulls, who charged up 24 runs in a span of two victories at McCoy Stadium, Thomas has stood out as one of Pawtucket’s few positives. He was one of only two home hitters, along with No. 9-slotted hitter Ronald Bermudez, to record a multi-hit game on both Saturday and Sunday.

When the rest of the PawSox were symptomatic of a hangover in the wake of Saturday’s slugfest, Thomas looked more like one of those volcanic Durham batters who roughed up the host pitching staff in Sunday’s 13-3 drubbing.

With a pair of doubles Sunday, Thomas tied the recently barren Daniel Nava for second on the team with 16 two-baggers on the year. Only Lars Anderson (21) has hit more doubles for the PawSox.

He also proved instrumental in all three of the PawSox scoring plays, which occurred at points when the game was still a legitimate contest. After the Bulls nabbed an initial 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth, Thomas drew a two-out walk in the bottom half, transferred to second on Brent Dlugach’s single, then came home to put the Sox on the board with the help of Bermudez’s single.

Two innings later, now faced with a 4-1 deficit, Thomas sent Nate Spears home from first with a distant double to left field. Two plays later, Bermudez gave him the OK to finish the trek and pull the PawSox to within a run.

It was not unlike Saturday’s epic fourth inning. The Bulls had usurped the lead and run up a 7-1 pothole in the top half and dared Thomas to kindle a comeback as he led off the bottom.

As it happened, Thomas singled to left and ultimately scored ahead of a Bermudez single for the first of six Pawtucket runs in the inning.

The PawSox batted around whilst drawing the 7-7 knot, allowing Thomas to lead off the fifth. All he did there was double to left and advance to third on a Dlugach single.

Regrettably for Thomas, after Bermudez walked to load the bases, he was cut down by a defiant Durham defense as Che-Hsuan Lin grounded into a fielder’s choice that denied Pawtucket its bid to regain the upper hand.

That aside, Thomas’ opportunism translated unmistakably to the last two box scores of this weekend. He clearly had some carbonation in him after a shoulder injury sustained July 2 kept him on the sidelines through the All-Star Break. And probably more so after the Bulls held him hitless in his return on Thursday, and after he was benched in favor of the multifaceted Nate Spears so Carl Crawford could make his first rehab start on Friday.

Even before his ailment, Thomas had abundant cause for determination. In three games over the first weekend of July, he let that translate to three hits, three stolen bases and a run-scored.

The root of that incentive? Most educated guessers would point to the six games and 16 days he spent with Double-A Portland. That initial transaction on June 14 was only two days after he had logged a not-so-shabby performance against Charlotte with two hits, including a double, and a stolen base.

That was precisely five weeks to the date, yet only six Triple-A appearances ago for Thomas.

He would not have another multi-hit game or multi-base hit with the PawSox until Saturday. But he has suddenly pulled off both feats two days in a row.

With that, dating back to that Charlotte game, he has hit .375 with four extra-base hits and four runs-scored in a span of seven appearances.

For at least one man, a few breathers and changes of scenery have been anything but speedbumps.

Post-game pop-ups: Bulls 13, PawSox 3

Swift summation
As Ryan Lavarnway goes, so go the PawSox, it seems. And when Lavarnway is striking out, it’s not such a good omen.

Less than 24 hours removed from a career night at McCoy Stadium, the radiant rookie plummeted downhill on the stats sheet with the rest of his team Sunday afternoon. Going 0-for-4 in five plate appearances, Lavarnway went down swinging at the hands of Durham Bulls reliever Jay Buente to curtain an egregious 13-3 Pawtucket loss.

With the win, the Bulls have salvaged a split in the series and pole-vaulted over the once-thriving PawSox for a half-game lead in the International League wild card derby.

It originally looked as though both bat racks had been drained in the afterglow of Durham’s explosive 11-8 triumph Saturday night. But in the fourth inning, Pawtucket starter Matt Fox gradually disassembled before a replenished Bulls offense.

Fox struck out the cleanup man Dan Johnson for the second time in the game and for his fourth K on the day, hinting that he was not shaken up by Felipe Lopez’s first-blood double the previous play. But he then walked Canzler on a payoff pitch and hit Leslie Anderson to load the bases and summon pitching coach Rich Sauveur to the mound.

Fox subsequently got J.J. Furmaniak to watch an 0-2 pitch for a crucial strikeout, but John Matulia stepped in and nailed a two-run single down the left field line, augmenting the deficit to 3-0.

Johnson’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning proved the difference as it sent Daniel Mayora home from third for the Bulls’ fourth run. Another tradeoff in the seventh, with Canzler sending in Jennings, gave Durham a 5-1 edge and finished off Fox.

But from there, the visitors merciless manners only continued as they charged up another eight runs on seven hits against Pawtucket relievers Dennis Neuman and Jeremy Kehrt.

Lopez finalized the score with a three-run home run with two outs in the ninth.

PawSox pluses
Although it was indubitably unsettling for local rooters to see him scorched like this, Fox had a few highlights. He did match a season-high with his third seven-strikeout performance on the year.

For the second straight outing, the bottom one-third of the batting order was the brightest portion of the PawSox offense. Tony Thomas, Brent Dlugach and Ronald Bermudez combined for five of the team’s eight hits and played a role in all three runs.

In the bottom of the fourth, Thomas drew a one-out walk, advanced to second on Dlugach’s single, and made the trip home in one rush as Bermudez deposited a liner into centerfield. Two innings later, with the game still in reach, Thomas sent Nate Spears home from first on a double and scored himself on Bermudez’s own double to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Sox stains
PawSox players were culpable in most every hair-whitening malfunction on the day, save for the Internet outage that delayed the publication of this very report.

If the fourth inning was a disturbance of hiccups, then the final three were eruptions of hives. Before any Bulls crossed the plate to activate their handsome insurance policy, Thomas failed to throw out Mayora, resulting in an infield hit and runners at the corners with nobody out. Two plays later, Fox was compelled to intentionally walk Johnson, despite his good fortune against him in previous encounters. Jennings, Mayora, and Johnson Leslie Anderson all subsequently scored to crack open the gap to 8-3.

Although he was just recalled from Single-A Greenville earlier in the day, one can infer more was expected out of Neuman as he relieved Fox. As it happened, in his fifth appearance with the PawSox and first since May 22, Neuman mustered only one out amongst six batters-faced. The others were constituted by three walks and two doubles.

In addition, Neuman and Kehrt combined to let all four inherited runners score.

Cleanup hitter Lars Anderson logged two hits, but the first was wasted on a bizarre bounce. Lavarnway, on board with a two-out walk in the third inning, got in the way of Anderson’s liner as he attempted to execute a hit-and-run. Upon being struck by the ball, he was ruled out and the Sox had spilled a chance to draw first blood in the game.

From there, a whole series of unfortunate events ensued for the McCoy masses.

Bulls notes
All nine offensive starters logged at least one hit for Durham, giving the team 16 total on the day. But no one individual came within smelling distance of equating Mayora’s dolphin show.

The No. 2-slotted third-baseman registered four hits and scored five runs. Two of those were driven in by Lopez, whose RBI bushel spiked from two to five on his brownie blast in the ninth.

Bulls’ starter Brian Baker repressed several early threats, including three doubles within the first five innings (by Che-Hsuan Lin, Thomas and Anderson, respectively) that ultimately amounted to nothing.

Baker was charged with all three Pawtucket runs, only two of occurring on his watch, but claimed an easy seventh winning decision with the help of his offense and bullpen. Save for Bermudez’s RBI double, Mike Ekstrom and Buente did not authorize a single hit in a combined four full innings.

Miscellany
Infielder Jose Iglesias will reportedly take his first round of batting practice since his July 3 concussion tomorrow and could be back in the lineup later in the week.