The long ball could only go such a long way to advance the Pawtucket Red Sox’ cause Wednesday afternoon.
After collecting five unanswered runs within the first three innings, all by virtue of home runs, the PawSox puffed out on offense and let the visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees whittle their way back.
By the top of the ninth, Garrett Mock came on with the simple task of salvaging a 5-4 triumph. Instead, he loaded the bases with no outs and then surrendered the lead by virtue of Francisco Cervelli’s two-run base hit.
Between Mock and Chorye Spoone, the Yanks batted around in the top of the ninth and added an additional two runs, one from Steve Pearce’s sacrifice fly immediately after Colin Curtis stole third and the other from Brandon Laird’s single that brought Cervelli home from second base.
The Sox nearly played at the exact same game in the bottom half, filling the bags with three outs to spare and Daniel Nava bound for the batter’s box. His sacrifice fly would bring home Tony Thomas to reduce the deficit to 8-6, but Scranton closer Kevin Whelan then found a long-elusive solution to Mauro Gomez and Will Middlebrooks.
Back-to-back strikeouts to the two hot hitters finalized the Yankees’ 8-6 victory at McCoy Stadium and denied the Sox what would have been their first 10-game winning streak in franchise history.
The heart of the batting lineup stopped beating just when it was needed most. Quite the contrast to the tone it set in Wednesday’s early stages.
Each of the first five Pawtucket batters to challenge Yankees’ hurler Adam Warren pushed the ball beyond the infield. After a pair of flyouts to straightaway center, three unanswered two-out hits from the bottom of the order opened up the scoring.
Nava dropped a single to the opposite field in shallow left, then came home when Gomez belted a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for a 2-0 advantage. The equally radiant Middlebrooks followed up with a single, though he would be stranded to end the first.
Pedro Ciriaco would lead off the third with his own blast over the left field fence. Four batters later, Nava was taken home again, this time by Middlebrooks, whose homer to right-center augmented the edge to 5-0.
PawSox starter Doug Mathis made it through 3.1 innings without surrendering a hit, but suddenly found his five-run cushion shriveled down to two on the Yanks second hit of the day. A walk and a single set up designated hitter Jack Cust’s three-run dinger in the top of the fourth to make it 5-3, Pawtucket, in the fourth.
Curtis brought Scranton to within one in the top of the fifth by lining a two-out single to center, stealing second and hustling home via Francisco Cervelli’s own base hit.
Reliever Andrew Miller faced a toe-curling predicament in the top of the sixth when Scranton put two men in scoring position and Ramiro Pena sculpted a 3-0 advantage in his at-bat. But upon looking at three unanswered strikes, Pena and the Pinstripes saw their threat evaporate.
Rich Hill and Will Inman each did enough to repress the Yanks in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. But once the ball was handed to Mock, he made a regular mockery of the bullpen.
Middlebrooks has now homered six times in his last eight games and remains tied with Gomez for the team lead with 13 extra-base hits apiece.
Nava went 3-for-4 and has now scored at least one run in each of his last five games. In addition, after splashing a six-game hitting drought on April 18, he has since hit safely in five of his last six outings.
Centerfielder Josh Kroeger joined the afternoon’s multi-hit club with singles in the third and the eighth, but was left hanging on deck in the ninth.
Mock’s blown save―15 balls out of 33 pitches, three walks and three runs allowed―kind of speaks for itself. And the prom night pimple on his game log sticks out all the more given that he had surrendered no runs in any of his previous five appearances in 2012.
Mathis virtually maxed out his pitch count prematurely, in part, due to a greater number of balls than most any PawSox partisan would have preferred. He was finished after five full innings of work, which saw him throw 53 of 91 offerings for strikes.
Andrew Miller was not much better in the sixth, throwing 12 out of 22 pitches for balls. The reason the Yankees threatened in that inning was because Miller had walked Cust, hit Laird and allowed both to escape to scoring position on a wild pitch.
Jose Iglesias finished this brief, two-game series 0-for-7 at the plate.
Adam Miller and Chase Whitley successively pitched a 1-2-3 inning of relief in the sixth and the seventh, respectively, striking out one Pawtucket batter apiece. Whitley returned for the eighth and benched Mike Rivera on three unanswered strikes for another 1-2-3 shift.
Pearce was the only Scranton hitter not to strike out at any point on Wednesday.
Before his insurance single in the ninth, Laird’s batting log for the day consisted of two strikeouts and two hits-by-pitch.
PawSox right fielder Alex Hassan reached base twice without registering a hit. He was hit by a pitch in the third and walked in the fifth.
Before they commence their road trip with a wraparound weekend in Columbus, Thursday will be an off-day for the Sox, their last before May 23, barring any weather-induced impediments to their schedule.