The Pawtucket Red Sox finally learned Friday night that they can only juggle with torches so many times before they get burned.
Conceding the first run for the fourth time in as many nights against the visiting Indianapolis Indians and falling behind by at least three runs, the Sox deleted 4-0, 5-4 and 6-5 deficits. But they could never raise an upper hand and ultimately paid for their newest pitcher’s shoddy tone-setter as the Indians departed with an 8-6 victory.
In his first (and, so far, only) Triple-A inning of 2012, demoted Red Sox starter Daniel Bard sandwiched a single with two hit-batsmen to load the bases with no outs for Jeff Clement, who entered the night with the I.L.’s second-best batting average. Clement would hit into a forceout up the middle, but nonetheless nudged Chase d’Arnaud home for a 1-0 lead and put himself and Gorkys Hernandez at the corners.
Designated hitter Jeff Larish knocked both runners in with a double to the warning track in left-center.
Promptly succeeding Bard after one inning, Doug Mathis allowed two straight singles to commence the second, then yielded the Indians’ fourth unanswered run in the third. Brandon Boggs’ base hit scored Yamaico Navarro from second base.
With Pedro Ciriaco and Ryan Lavarnway aboard in the third, Mauro Gomez retorted with a one-out, three-run dinger over the opposite wall in right, instantly reducing the deficit to 4-3.
But Indians’ southpaw starter Jeff Locke retired each of his next seven challengers and eight of his next nine, six by virtue of a strikeout. Upon rallying from a 3-0 deficit to catch Gomez swinging and missing at a payoff pitch, he handed things over to the bullpen to commence the sixth.
As reliever Evan Meeks’ third challenger with two outs in that inning, PawSox infielder Tony Thomas belted a straightaway solo shot to draw a 4-4 knot. But Navarro’s own solo blast to left renewed the Indians’ lead to 5-4 in the top of the seventh.
Indianapolis reliever Tim Wood, who supplanted Jose Diaz with two down in the bottom of the seventh, saw to it that a cumulative three runners were stranded. The Sox finally solved him in the ninth, though, when Pedro Ciriaco doubled, advanced on a wild pitch, then came home for another equalizer on Ryan Kalish’s two-bagger to the centerfield gap.
Two scoreless extra innings ensued before Navarro walked, stole second and advanced to third on Lavarnway’s throwing error, then hustled home ahead of Boggs’ double, his second RBI hit of the night.
Che-Hsuan Lin led off the bottom of the twelfth by repeating his tenth-inning act with an opposite-field triple. And this time, he completed the tour with the help of Josh Kroeger’s one-out single to shallow left, making it 6-6 and forcing a thirteenth frame.
With two men in scoring position, a previously hitless Starling Marte wasted no time drilling a single to left field, plating Hernandez and d’Arnaud for an 8-6 Indy advantage.
In his third inning of relief, Indians left Kris Johnson subsequently repressed Pawtucket’s attempt at a fourth rally, retiring the top of the order 1-2-3.
Despite pitching six times as many innings as Bard, Mathis tamed the Tribe much more proficiently. Even as he elevated his single-night pitch count to an easy season-high of 105, Mathis finished strong by striking out three of four batters in the seventh.
Mathis’ successor, Alex Wilson, needed only 22 pitches, 16 for strikes, to whip up back-to-back 1-2-3 frames in the eighth and ninth.
Lin led the home team’s multi-hit club, which also featured Ciriaco and Kalish, with a single and two triples.
Bard’s brief and blunderstruck shift on the mound kind of speaks for itself. If not for that, maybe the Sox could have finished a sweep of the Indians within regulation and thus allowed the McCoy masses to leave without any guilt.
Other than that, there were no individual PawSox who had an altogether egregious night. Although, Kroeger, Nate Spears and Ciriaco all left Thomas and Lin hanging in scoring position when any one of them could have won it in the tenth with a simple base hit.
Navarro hit 3-for-5 on the night along with a walk, a run batted in and three runs-scored.
d’Arnaud was charged with his team-leading ninth error of the year from his shortstop post when he couldn’t collect Thomas’ grounder in the second inning. Although, on the other side of the ball, he batted a decent 2-for-5 along with his free base on Bard’s hit-by-pitch as well as Inman’s throwing error in the thirteenth.
Larish was the only Indianapolis batter to draw a walk on Mathis, getting the four-ball pass in both the third and fifth inning. In their third meeting, though, he would strike out swinging at a 2-2 pitch. Striking out again against Will Inman in the twelfth, Larish’s night ended when he was ejected for disputing the call.
Diaz intentionally walked Lavarnway in the seventh. Wood did the same to Gomez in the ninth shortly after Kalish’s double had drawn the 5-5 knot. Daniel Moskos likewise put Thomas on board in the tenth with a planned pass.
Each Indianapolis hitter struck out at least once, combining to brook 15 Ks on the night.
In his first home outing with the PawSox, Mark Prior struck out four while allowing a hit and a walk over the ninth and tenth inning.
Kroeger pinch hit for Ronald Bermudez in the bottom of the eighth, then nudged Alex Hassan to Bermudez’s left field post while assuming Hassan’s old spot in right for the ninth. Spears hit in lieu of Jonathan Hee to lead off the home half of the ninth, replacing him at third base for extra innings.
Indianapolis and Pawtucket combined to ground into seven forceouts, including six unanswered at the Indians’ expense within the first six stanzas.
At four hours and 41 minutes, Friday’s contest easily set a new mark as the longest game in the Sox’ 2012 season so far. They previously took four hours and eight minutes to lose an April 15 tilt in Buffalo.
The Gwinnett Braves will drop in for the second half of the PawSox homestand. Gwinnett pitching staff leader Julio Teheran will counter Tony Pena, Jr. in Saturday night’s series opener.