Saturday, September 10, 2011

Post-game Pop-ups: IronPigs 3, PawSox 1

Swift summation
A combination of a single and throwing error by Lehigh Valley’s Kevin Frandsen from third base allowed Hector Luna to reach second as the leadoff man in the ninth. He subsequently stole third and then ran home to give the PawSox a long-awaited run ahead of Will Middlebrooks’ sacrifice fly to centerfield.

But the designated hitter only personified Pawtucket’s fatally delayed perk-up. Luna, who had broken up his playoffs-long Blutarsky average in his previous at-bat in the seventh, only whittled a deficit down to 3-1.

Two easy plays later, IronPigs’ starter Brian Bass cemented that 3-1 score, along with a complete game victory and a three-game sweep of the PawSox.

On an evening when the offense on both fronts was as barren as a Canadian cornfield in January, the PawSox outdid the Pigs in most every category except the key column with the “R” heading.

Lehigh Valley mustered only three hits as opposed to Pawtucket’s five. Meanwhile, the home defense committed no errors while Lehigh Valley made three on the night.

In all, the PawSox were allotted 11 baserunners versus the IronPigs’ four. But they only drove home one of those while Lehigh Valley had a sound 75 percent success rate.

In each of the first two innings, the IronPigs and PawSox had one baserunner apiece. Lehigh Valley scored each of its. The Sox stranded each of theirs.

For the second time in the series, model baserunner Rich Thompson flaunted his forte to grab a quick 1-0 lead. He leveled the first pitch of the game onto the shallow centerfield lawn, stole second base with Scott Podsednik at bat, then advanced to third and home on back-to-back sacrifice grounders.

Josh Barfield raised the IronPigs’ upper hand to 2-0 in the second, dropping a one-out, solo home run into the bullpen behind the left-field barrier.

For each of the next three innings, the PawSox once again put one man on base and stranded him each time. Then, in the sixth, Thompson led off the road half with a double, hustled to third on yet another Podsednik sacrifice grounder and made it 3-0 on what was scored a fielder’s choice that caught Frandsen at first.

The indefatigable Bass went into the ninth already having thrown a full eight, shutout innings, throwing 107 pitches and allowing nine baserunners, including two by way of the hit-batsmen. The second of those, Lars Anderson, placed himself on first and Joey Gathright on second with only one out in the eighth.

But on the next play, Drew Sutton redirected the first pitch he saw to IronPigs shortstop Freddy Galvis, who initiated an inning-ending twin killing. And, for all intents and purposes, a dream killing.

PawSox pluses
For the better part of the night, Bass had a higher pitch count than his Pawtucket counterpart, Alex Wilson. A major reason for that was Che-Hsuan Lin, who reached base on a hit-by-pitch and gave the Sox their first hit of the night with a rolling single in the third.

At that point, Bass had thrown a cumulative 41 pitches at 10 challengers. In two plate-appearances, Lin had summoned 14 of those and worked up a pair of full counts. Lin proceeded to steal second base after drawing two pickoff attempts with Daniel Nava at bat. Gathright pulled a similar stunt in the eighth after leading off that inning with a single.

Wilson, meanwhile, mustered his longest of five total outings at the Triple-A level this season. In the regular season, the hasty call-up from Portland did not last any more than an even six innings per night. On Saturday, he was pulled after seven full stanzas, having thrown 80 pitches and allowed a mere three runs on three hits while striking out six IronPigs.

In relief of Wilson, Trever Miller was perfect with a pair of 1-2-3 stanzas, striking out two while inducing a pair of grounders and flies.

Sox stains
Luis Exposito was Bass’ only strikeout victim and he was benched in that exact fashion twice in three confrontations with the Lehigh Valley starter.

Nava entered Game 3 having hit 2-for-6 with a run-scored, an RBI double and two walks in the first two games. But the No. 3-slotted batter went an acrid 0-for-4 on elimination night. He was one of four hitters who stranded a teammate in scoring position.

The cleanup man Anderson also fizzled after being one of the few to cultivate multiple hits during the first two games at Lehigh Valley. His only trip to the basepaths was courtesy of the ball hitting him.

Jose Iglesias went 0-for-4 failed to get the ball into the outfield until he flied to Thompson in straightaway center, ending the game and the season.

IronPigs notes
Despite failing to reach base, Frandsen was credited with two RBIs, having knocked in Thompson for both of his runs on a sacrifice grounder.

Barfield was charged with a fielding error in the fifth as Iglesias reached first base. It marked the second time in as many nights that Iglesias reached on an error. Moss was charged with Lehigh Valley’s first error in the opening inning when he caught Gathright’s fly, then overthrew the ball back into the infield, allowing Lin to take a free ride to second base.

Between the regular season and postseason, Bass finished with a 2-1 record in five starts against the PawSox in 2011.

Lin was the only PawSox player with a hit in each of all three playoff games, finishing the bada-bing, bada-boom postseason with a .308 batting average. Gathright and Sutton were the only others to finish the run on the north side of the Mendoza Line.

Wilson struck out Brandon Moss and Domonic Brown two times apiece as the No. 4 and No. 5-slotted IronPigs each went 0-for-4 on the night.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Iglesias taking less painful shots for PawSox

Joey Gathright has been flaunting his speed on the basepaths in recent outings, especially with his infield bunt single in Game 1 of the International League postseason on Thursday. As a result, one had to wonder why PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler opted to let him be the odd man out when rotating Tony Thomas into the batting order for Game 2.

But the way Jose Iglesias filled in Gathright’s No. 2 batting position was wholly immune to blame as the Sox fell into a two-games-to-none crater with a 3-2 walkoff loss at Coca-Cola Park. In both of the last two losses to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Iglesias has demonstrated his share of quickness when given the chance, giving him tangible and intangible roles in what little offense the PawSox have cultivated.

Carrying over from the climactic phases of the regular season, Iglesias’ outing on Friday (two sacrifice grounders, a run-scored and an RBI) gives him seven runs-scored and six batted in over the past 12 games. He crossed the plate to draw an initial 1-0 edge and later knocked in a stimulating equalizer in the eighth, forcing Lehigh Valley to take an extra inning for the win.

In addition, on Thursday, Iglesias stole his fourth base in the last five games, upping his combined regular-season and postseason total to 13 pilfers.

For the longest time, everything Iglesias was on defense, he wasn’t on offense. But a sound homestretch on both sides of the ball earned him an elevation from his customary No. 9 slot to go up between Che-Hsuan Lin and Daniel Nava.

All the more astounding when one recalls that Iglesias is going on a mere 10 weeks since he was the center of a frightful scene in the McCoy Stadium batter’s box.

In the eighth inning of a July 3 tilt with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, the prized prospective Red Sox shortstop was biffed in the lid by Andrew Brackman’s delivery. In turn, the PawSox placed him on the disabled list three days later with a diagnosed concussion.

All things considered, Iglesias recovered ahead of schedule. He was reactivated after a mere 15 days on the DL and proved to be back in his old form at his shortstop post, assisting on each putout in a 1-2-3 first inning against Lehigh Valley July 21.

Not long afterward, he began to accelerate his batting prowess in a most timely manner as the Sox hustled after their first divisional crown in eight years.

Most notably, in Part I of an Aug. 26 doubleheader at Scranton, Iglesias hit his first professional home run in nearly two four years and a cumulative 596 at-bats over four different levels.

From there, he curtained the regular season hitting 9-for-30 with three walks, three extra-base hits and six runs-scored.

In his first 89 games of the season, leading up to Aug. 24, Iglesias had batted .223 with only eight extra-base hits and 26 RBIs. Over the final 12 games of the regular season, he elevated his average a solid 12 points to .235, going 13-for-39 in the final lap and adding five RBIs.

Of his last five games, Thursday’s 4-2 shortcoming to open this semifinal series has been the only outing where Iglesias failed to notch a hit.

However, when he reached first base on pitcher Dave Bush’s fielding error in the fifth, he opportunistically stole second base, then advanced to third on Lin’s sacrifice grounder, through he was ultimately stranded.

On Friday, he was one of only three PawSox to mooch a hit off of Lehigh Valley starter Ryan Edell and scored Pawtucket’s only run at Edell’s expense. In the top of the first, he sent an 0-1 pitch rolling into left for a one-out single, then hustled home in a direct round trip from first base with the help of Lars Anderson’s double to the right-centerfield gap.

Iglesias’ second at-bat was a fairly productive out in the third. Lin, who had deposited a one-out double, advanced to third when Iglesias grounded to short. Iglesias’ effort went to waste though, when Nava hit another grounder to short to end the inning and failed to drive in what otherwise would have given Pawtucket a 2-1 lead.

Iglesias would sacrifice himself once more in the eighth, dropping a crisp bunt in front of the mound to again send Lin to third. This time, the potential tying run dropped the “potential” tag as Nava leveled a ground-rule double to left-center, allowing Lin to draw a 2-2 knot.

Regrettably for Iglesias, though, few of his mates have been able to chip in similar plays. And in the tenth, he was the last of five strikeout victims for IronPigs reliever Justin De Fratus, who would soon claim credit for the win on the strength of old friend Brandon Moss’ RBI single.

Post-game pop-ups: IronPigs 3, PawSox 2

Swift summation
The way PawSox reliever Randy Williams mishandled Rich Thompson’s short-distance bunt was aptly symbolic of his fatally juggling with torches. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs formidable baserunner reached on Williams’ fielding error with no outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, also placing Freddy Galvis in scoring position.

Two plays later, an intentional walk to Kevin Frandsen loaded the bases and daringly summoned Brandon Moss, whose subsequent single to right-center gave him all of his team’s RBIs in a 3-2 final at Coca-Cola Park.

With that, Pawtucket now finds itself down, 2-0, in the best-of-five Governor’s Cup semifinal series. And despite returning home for up to three do-or-die games, the Sox are facing anything but auspicious circumstances, having just wasted the efforts of the two most reliable members of their playoff rotation, Matt Fox and Tony Pena, Jr.

Not unlike his other two bouts with Lehigh Valley, Pena had a lead for a time, but it was brittle and short-lived.

In the opening frame, Lars Anderson did as he had done in the opening game by driving in Pawtucket’s first run on an extra-base hit. With two outs and Jose Iglesias on board, he cranked a double to the right-center warning track, allowing Iglesias to hustle all the way home from first for a 1-0 lead.

Pena set the most auspicious tone possible on his first shift of duty, needing only seven pitches and throwing all of them for strikes in a 1-2-3 first. But that trend changed in a hurry in the ensuing innings.

Moss pulled the IronPigs even to lead off the home half of the second, catapulting Pena’s first pitch over the fence in straightaway center. One inning later, with two on board and one away, Moss doubled to center to send Scott Podsednik home from second, granting the hosts a 2-1 upper hand.

Only thrice in the regular season, including his two other bouts with Lehigh Valley, had Pena thrown more pitches than the 85 he chucked in Thursday’s start. When he reached that point, on the heels of allowing back-to-back two-out singles, he was forked out in favor of Hideki Okajima after a mere 4.2 innings-pitched.

Okajima’s first challenger was none other than Moss, who lost the lefty-to-lefty confrontation by popping up to the shortstop Iglesias in shallow left.

Lehigh Valley starter Ryan Edell left relatively early as well, having thrown 75 pitches in 5.2 innings. His second reliever, Phillippe Aumont, would spill his bid for a win in the eighth.

Che-Hsuan Lin led off by daringly bunting and diving into first base on a play that was scored a fielding error to IronPigs first baseman Tagg Bozied. Lin would advance to second on a wild-pitch, transfer to third on Iglesias’ sacrifice bunt, then draw a 2-2 knot ahead of Daniel Nava’s ground-rule double to left-center.

To commence the bottom of the ninth, Williams issued a four-pitch walk to Delwyn Young, thus snapping the Pawtucket bullpen’s night-long string of 10 straight retired batters. But Young was stranded on second base, prompting extra innings.

PawSox pluses
Okajima, who went through his final six regular-season relief outings without allowing a run, did about all that could be asked of him Friday night. Facing four batters, he struck out two and induced a pair of grounders.

Junichi Tazawa was equally pristine when he succeeded Okajima to commence the seventh. He induced a popup and a flyout before benching three straight on strikes to retire all five of his batters-faced.

Sox stains
After the Pigs had taken the 2-1 lead, Tony Thomas blew an opportunity to pull the PawSox even in one of the most egregious possible ways. After being hit by a pitch to earn a free base with two outs in the fifth, he quickly spilled that opportunity with Lin at the plate, getting caught in a botched attempt to steal second.

And if there were any seams in the psyche of Lehigh Valley reliever Mike Zagurski in the seventh inning, Carroll and Thomas didn’t find it. They struck out back-to-back to strand Will Middlebrooks and Luis Exposito on the corners, ending the top of the seventh with the 2-1 deficit still intact.

Carroll’s quiet night at the plate included one shallow fly to right-center and three strikeouts.

IronPigs notes
Frandsen, a former PawSox infielder hit 2-for-3 against Pena and just missed giving the IronPigs a two-run advantage in the bottom of the third. He attempted to follow Podsednik home on Moss’ RBI double, but was thrown out on a relay between Lin, Thomas and Exposito.

Justin De Fratus, Lehigh Valley’s fourth pitcher on the night, struck out two for a 1-2-3 ninth. He then struck out the side on a couple of disputed calls for a 1-2-3 tenth.

Catcher Erik Kratz, the IronPigs’ regular-season batting leader with a .288 average, did not start the game but pinch-hit for plate-patrolling colleague Dane Sardinha in the ninth and assumed his usual defensive post to commence the tenth.

Drew Sutton, outrighted by the parent club earlier in the day, pinch-hit for Thomas to commence extra innings, though he was rung up after taking a payoff pitch from De Fratus.

In other Friday transactions, the PawSox lost reliever Scott Atchison to his sixth Major League call-up of the year, but brought up Royce Ring from Double-A Portland to fill the bullpen void.

Two nights after local Bruins fans had a chance to meet the Stanley Cup at the Rhode Island Convention Center, the Red Sox will bring their recent hardware to the home of their Ocean State associates. Both the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies will be on display outside of McCoy Stadium prior to Game 3 on Saturday.

The defending Triple-A national champion Columbus Clippers finished a three-game sweep of the Durham Bulls with a 5-2 victory Friday night. Either the PawSox or IronPigs will venture to Huntington Park for Game 1 of the Governor’s Cup Finals on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: IronPigs 4, PawSox 2

Swift summation
The situation the Pawtucket Red Sox are in after Thursday night’s 4-2 loss to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Coca-Cola Park is as plain as they reason why they are in it.

Unlike the Sox, the host IronPigs―especially their key players―did not take an extended afternoon nap into the confrontation. Nor did they habitually doze back off when the time was right to hit the “go” button with men on base.

And so, contrary to the adage that in baseball, “there’s always tomorrow,” the 2011 PawSox have as few as two tomorrow’s left as they trail the best-of-five Governor’s Cup playoff series, 1-0.

On their first couple of post-season go-arounds, the core of the IronPigs’ offense was effective when that of the PawSox wasn’t. After Che-Hsuan Lin and Joey Gathright both reached base to lead off the first, the leaned-on likes of Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson and Hector Luna all failed to knock any of them home.

In the bottom half, league-leading base-stealer and run-scorer Rich Thompson wasted no time exercising his two fortes. He led off with a single, stole second base, advanced to third on Scott Podsednik’s sacrifice bunt, then gave Lehigh Valley a 1-0 edge with the help of Kevin Frandsen’s sacrifice grounder to Luna at second.

Erik Kratz, the IronPigs regular-season batting average leader (.288), raised the upper hand to 2-0 with a solo shot to left field in the second inning.

After the heart of the PawSox order showed little life again in the third (Luna stranded both Nava and Anderson), high-ranking slugger and old friend Brandon Moss made it 3-0 in the fourth. He led off the inning with a distant dinger to right-centerfield, giving him his second hit in as many confrontations with Pawtucket ace Matt Fox.

With that, Fox had already given up more than two runs in a single start for the first time since his last losing decision, a 13-3 debacle against Durham on July 17.

The Sox and at least one of their top bats finally perked up when the cleanup man Anderson ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a homer to right to lead off the sixth. That ended a team-leading, 33-day, 80-at-bat drought without a dinger and whittled the deficit down to 3-1.

But Freddy Galvis sent his own shot into the same locality in the seventh at the expense of reliever Brandon Duckworth, restoring the three-run difference to 4-1.

As it happened, the heart of the PawSox order was due up next. They did load the bases with one out, allowing Luis Exposito to sacrifice himself on a grounder that sent Nava home from third.

But Luna and Will Middlebrooks were subsequently left on third and second, respectively, effectively capping off a night that saw Pawtucket stand nine baserunners altogether, including seven in scoring position.

With none other than Nava on deck in the ninth, IronPigs closer Justin De Fratus wrapped up a 1-2-3 ninth.

PawSox pluses
It took Nava a while to get a tangible reward, but his aggression in the batter’s box base paths was repeatedly evident Thursday night. In his first at-bat, he put Lin and Gathright in scoring position on a sacrifice grounder, although they were both stranded. He singled up the middle to avert a 1-2-3 third inning. And in the eighth, he led off with a walk, stole second base with Luna at bat, advanced to third on Middlebrooks’ single and scored Pawtucket’s second run with the help of Exposito’s sacrifice.

Sox stains
In each of his first two plate-appearances, the PawSox had two outs and Luna had two prospective RBIs on board. But through a strikeout and a shallow fly to right, he let all four of those evaporate in a hurry.

For Jose Iglesias, the first two trips to the batter’s box constituted a case of strand or be stranded. In the second, he let Brett Carroll’s two-out double go to waste when he grounded to first. In the fifth, he reached on pitcher Dave Bush’s fielding error, then stole second and advanced to third on Gathright’s sacrifice, only to watch helplessly as Nava’s fly ended his bid to hatch Bush’s goose-egg.

IronPigs notes
Bush left with two outs in the seventh inning, having thrown 98 pitches, 70 of which went for strikes and six strikeouts. He was, however, involved in two errors. The first, which let Iglesias on board in the fourth, was charged to him. And his final play had him chasing down a misfired throw by first baseman Cody Overbeck that ultimately let Lin get to scoring position.

Bush’s first reliever, Joe Savery, struck out his only challenger when Gathright tipped a 2-2 pitch into the mitt of Kratz to end the seventh.

Duckworth, reactivated Thursday after 20 days on the disabled list, struck out Overbeck on three straight swings-and-misses to commence the seventh. But he was ultimately forked out after recording two outs, followed by two extra-base hits. Dating back to August 10, Duckworth has authorized at least one home run in each of his last three outings.

Of the 18 position players active in Game 1, Lehigh Valley’s Frandsen and Overbeck were the only two to not reach base at any point on the night.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

PawSox playoff run could be start of a local sports renaissance

The devout sports buffs of Providence County, and of Rhode Island in general, are all but back where they were at this time three years ago.

After two sleepy, sub.-500 summers, the PawSox are back in the Governor’s Cup playoffs as of this week. Meanwhile, Providence College has resumed classes with the better part of its community waiting out two more months before a new coach looks to revitalize the school’s cherished basketball program.

This was the exact same case on both fronts in 2008, when manager Ron Johnson and Co. garnered the International League wild card and the Friars were banking on Keno Davis to reprise his success at Drake University.

It proved a false start on both accounts. But now here we are again, and then some.

First-year manager Arnie Beyeler’s instantaneous success, which saw the PawSox improve their regular-season record by 16 games, can serve as inspiration to the fan bases of three other local teams. Not unlike the Sox, the Providence Bruins along with PC men’s basketball and hockey will all debut a new coach this year and will be looking for postseason action for the first time in two or more years.

Four teams starting anew all in one year equals four chances to see a local team replenish its relevance. One has already gone above and beyond just by being one of the last four teams standing in the I.L.

Will the hoopsters and pucksters of Providence do the same thing to the same extent within the same frame of time? Well, the motto of this state is “Hope,” so the fans are free to dream and keeping drawing inspiration from the PawSox as they anticipate the coming winter.

But first, let’s look back at when all of the teams in the area seemed to tumble.

The PawSox fizzled in four games at the hands of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and then plummeted to irrelevance on the watch of Johnson and later Torey Lovullo. PC did garner a home date with the Miami Hurricanes at the 2009 NIT, but otherwise floundered, ultimately leading to Davis’ dismissal six months ago.

While we’re at it, let's throw in the two publicity-leading hockey teams in the area. When the PawSox host Game 3 of this week’s I.L. semifinal against Lehigh Valley, it will be the first time a significant postseason game has been played in this state since Memorial Day 2009.

That day, the P-Bruins were abolished from the AHL’s conference finals by the almighty Hershey Bears. Since then, they have missed the Calder Cup playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in their two decades of existence.

But their plight has paled in comparison to that of the Skating Friars. PC men's hockey entered the 2008-09 season having made the Hockey East playoffs in each of the league's 24 years of existence. But ever since Nathan Gerbe scored on a highlight-reel penalty shot and Boston College knocked them out of the quarterfinals the same day Davis' predecessor, Tim Welsh, was fired―the Ides of March 2008―PC has seen no action in the postseason.

Accordingly, Davis and former Friar Puck captain Tim Army were both ushered out within a span of 24 hours this past spring. One month later, Rob Murray was dislodged from his post as the P-Bruins head coach.

At the same time, a few towns over, manager Beyeler was just getting acclimated as he claimed Lovullo’s old office at McCoy Stadium. Not unlike their parent club at Fenway Park, the PawSox got off to a so-so start in 2011, finishing April with a 13-10 transcript and May with a 26-25 record.

Since then, however, Beyeler’s pupils have perked up and won 17 games apiece in June, July and August. A sweep of a four-game homestand this past Labor Day weekend cemented their first I.L. divisional championship since 2003.

While the PawSox were still thawing out, Friartown was drawing attention to its dual replacement campaign. First, local boy Ed Cooley was given the basketball reins and energetically pledged to instill discipline and unwavering pride to the descendants of Jimmy Walker, Ernie DiGregorio and Ryan Gomes.

Then, fresh off of claiming the Spencer Penrose Award as Division I men’s coach of the year, Nate Leaman bolted from Union College to fill the void at Schneider Arena. (Maybe he can pilfer some of the winning potion from two-time defending Women’s Hockey East coach of the year, Bob Deraney.)

And on June 25, when the Sox were four games above .500 and gradually ascending the I.L. leaderboard, the P-Bruins followed PC hockey's lead in hiring another accolade-laden coach. Bruce Cassidy, who won the Louis A.R. Pieri Award with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2002, was simply elevated from his assistant's seat to take Murray’s old spot.

For all three of the new skipper, the starting points are fairly similar. PC hoops wants to contend for an NCAA tournament bid, Friar Puck wants to play the week after Senior Night and the P-Bruins want to get back to the AHL’s Sweet 16.

If any of the, can do that, they will each be entitled to the same mentality as the PawSox of this week: That they have as good a chance as anybody to nab a little hardware and radiate for Rhode Islanders to admire.

Monday, September 5, 2011

PawSox heart of the order will have to pound in postseason

Hector Luna was given a day off in the Pawtucket Red Sox’ regular-season finale Monday. And by the looks of it, Daniel Nava and Lars Anderson took one of their own in a 7-3 victory over the Rochester Red Wings, owners of the worst record in the International League at 53-91.

Nava and Anderson did get on base twice, the former by way of two walks and the latter with one walk and a hit-by-pitch. That was their reward for being patient and passively exploiting the fidgeting Rochester starter Eric Hacker.

But in terms of official at-bats, the two hitters each went 0-for-2. Accordingly, the PawSox faithful can hope that Nava and Anderson are merely storing up for this week’s postseason series against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, which will commence on Wednesday at Coca-Cola Park.

If the most recent batting orders and transactions are any indication, manager Arnie Beyeler will have Nava, Anderson and Luna assuming the third, fourth and fifth slots, respectively in the batting order for the playoffs.

That arrangement would make the most sense. After all, Nava, Anderson and Luna are three of only four position players to have played in over 100 games for the PawSox this season. Of those still on the active roster, only Jose Iglesias (101 games) has seen action in more than 90.

Accordingly, these are the only four batters with an indicative gauge of their season at the Triple-A level. And the heart of the order looks to have healthy enough valves in the three regulars.

Over the past weekend, the PawSox have reluctantly deleted breakthrough catcher Ryan Lavarnway and infielder Drew Sutton, each of whom had a .295 batting average in 61 and 45 Triple-A games, respectively. While Sutton was designated for assignment by the parent Boston Red Sox, Lavarnway was joined as a September call-up by Nate Spears, who batted .248 in 96 games with Pawtucket.

That leaves it up to Luna, Nava and Anderson to keep leading the grind, as they generally have for a 2011 Pawtucket offense that is far more balanced than it is celestial.

Luna finished the regular season with a team-best .283 average and tied Anderson and Josh Reddick for second with 14 home runs.

Nava has cultivated some belated power in the latter half of the season. Within his final 27 outings, he hit seven home runs to up his total to 10, elevated his batting average seven points to .268 and batted in 22 runs after knocking in only 26 over his first 94 games. He also leads all PawSox eligible for the team leaderboard with a .372 slugging percentage.

Anderson retained a respectable .265 batting average while playing a team-high 136 games (missing only six) and leading all I.L. batters with 80 walks, the last of which forced in a run during Monday afternoon’s victory.

With Tuesday’s off-day/travel-day back to Allentown, Pa. comes the eye of the tempest that the presumptive heart of the batting order has helped the PawSox defy throughout their 2011 campaign. They have each lent a consistent presence to lead by example and help a full nine-man lineup supplement the comings and goings of Ryan Kalish, Reddick and Lavarnway.

All the while, they have pitched in the bulk of the offense in a two-and-a-half-month rush that saw Pawtucket morph a 32-32, third-place record into an 81-61, first-place finish in a span of 78 games and 83 days.

Now is the time for them to keep grinding it out in support of what could be a shorthanded pitching rotation in the playoffs. Would-be Game 1 starter Kyle Weiland was summoned to join Felix Doubront in Boston while Brandon Duckworth’s status is still uncertain.

As it stands right now, Matt Fox, the temporarily inactive Tony Pena, Jr. and late acquisitions Greg Smith and Alex Wilson could be the best Pawtucket can work with in the way of a rotation.

There are two primary reasons why the PawSox, who finished with the I.L.’s second-lowest team batting average at .253, are in the playoffs. Those would be shrewd and skilled baserunning (657 runs for third in the league) along with stingy pitching.

With Fox being the only proven ace guaranteed to go in the first round, the offense will have its chance to return a favor to the hurling brigade that kept them afloat for the last five months. For that, Beyeler has a few workable options to reap the most out of his mainstays and let the rest of lineup feed off of them.

Luna has garnered substantial time at various fielding positions and most recently has switched his primary post from third base to second with Will Middlebrooks now in the equation. And with the likes of Anderson, Ryan Khoury, Iglesias and Middlebrooks all available, Luna could make a go-to designated hitter throughout the postseason.

Either that, or Nava could fill that role on occasion and let Joey Gathright, Che-Hsuan Lin and Brett Carroll fill up the outfield, as was the case in Monday’s contest.

And the way Gathright ran on Monday, garnering two infield hits, he just might have locked up his spot as the No. 2 hitter behind leadoff man Lin. All those two will need to do is keep up their proven propensities for stopping at a bag.

Once there, Nava, Anderson and Luna will all be due up to try to usher them home. Do enough of that, and yet another late-season acquisition could be coming home to McCoy Stadium later this month.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 7, Red Wings 3

Swift summation
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.

PawSox pluses
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.

Sox stains
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.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 4, Red Wings 3

Swift summation
In the afterglow of their I.L. North championship party, the PawSox were not quite inclined to sleep in all day Sunday.

Although it appeared that way at times, they perked up at all the right times to pilfer a 4-3 brownie victory from the hapless Rochester Red Wings before a brimful audience of 10,507 at McCoy Stadium.

The game was decided in the eighth when Lars Anderson drew a leadoff walk and a pair of previously 0-for-4 batters came to life. First, Hector Luna lined a single to nudge Anderson to second.

And then, after Luis Exposito and Luna preoccupied the Rochester defense with a double play and allowed Anderson to reach third, Will Middlebrooks stepped up. One night removed from a grand slam, Middlebrooks sent the first pitch from Chuck James onto the left field lawn and Anderson home to bust a 3-3 tie.

Moments later, Anderson made another decisive step on another bag. With one out and one on in the ninth, he snatched Chase Lambin’s liner and singlehandedly carried out a game-ending double play by beating Jeff Bailey to his post at first base.

Pawtucket was still without a hit in the third inning when Jose Iglesias and Joey Gathright drew back-to-back walks, then advanced to scoring position on a wild pitch to Drew Sutton. One play later, Daniel Nava hatched two goose-eggs at once by lining a single into right to score both runners for a 2-0 lead.

Lambin cut into that lead in the top of the fourth with a two-out triple to the right-center wall that pushed Dustin Martin home from first base. In turn, former PawSox infielder Aaron Bates usurped the lead, flying Lambin home with a dinger to left-center.

In his next at-bat, Nava deleted the 3-2 deficit in the fifth. He scored Iglesias from second and ushered Drew Sutton to third base with a one-out double to right field.

After Bates’ home run, PawSox starter Alex Wilson and reliever Hideki Okajima combined to retire nine consecutive Red Wings. That string ended with two down in the seventh, when Jair Fernandez reached base on the third baseman Middlebrooks’ fielding error.

The error ultimately amounted to no damage, but Middlebrooks made substantial amends for it anyway in the bottom of the eighth.

PawSox pluses
While Wilson started his outing with gratifying efficiency, the bat rack sapped Rochester hurler Deinys Suarez in a hurry. By the end of the third inning, Wilson had thrown a mere 27 pitches as opposed to the 60 issued by Suarez. Accordingly, Wilson could afford a busier inning in the fourth and lasted through six stanzas, having thrown 80. Suarez, on the other hand, was finished with one out in the home half of the fifth, having thrown 93.

Wilson and Okajima combined for eight strikeouts and no walks over seven innings, in which time the Red Wings sent each of their batters to the plate three times for 27 batters over the first 21 outs.

Okajima got through the eighth in nimble fashion with a strikeout and a double play. He then saw his record improve to 8-1 when the PawSox pulled ahead for good in the bottom half.

Sox stains
In the bottom of the sixth, Luis Exposito spilled a chance to seize a 4-3 lead when a pitch to Brett Carroll landed in the dirt. Exposito daringly made a break for second base, but was thrown out with relative facility.

Carroll’s bat appeared anything but refreshed after getting three full days off, including the team’s rest day on Thursday and the recent short-stack series with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The right fielder went 0-for-4 on the night and stranded Middlebrooks in both the fourth and eighth.

Red Wings notes
Suarez could not solve Nava in three confrontations, allowing the left fielder to knock in each of Pawtucket’s first three runs in two at-bats and also walking for the PawSox’ first baserunner in the first. Conversely, reliever Cole DeVries induced Nava to fouling off a pair of payoff pitches before he popped up to short to strand Iglesias on second and end the seventh.

DeVries allowed no runs on two hits in 2.2 innings of work as Suarez’s immediate successor.

Martin was the only Rochester batter with multiple hits on the night with a single in each of his first two at-bats.

The PawSox set a franchise record with their 149th double play on the season. Anderson’s unassisted twin killing was No. 150 for the team.

Randy Williams closed his second consecutive victory and earned his eighth save.

Iglesias joined Anderson, Luna and Nava as the only four PawSox to have taken part in at least 100 games during the 2011 regular season.

Sunday’s game marked the end of Dan Hoard’s six-year tenure in the McCoy Stadium radio booth. He will leave his post at the PawSox radio network this week to focus exclusively on his new job calling the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.