Saturday, May 26, 2012

Post-game Pop-ups: PawSox 8, Mud Hens 5

Swift summation
Two could play at this game, and they did Saturday night at McCoy Stadium.

First, the Pawtucket Red Sox bullpen―more specifically, Junichi Tazawa―egregiously squandered a rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka’s bid for a victory over the Toledo Mud Hens, letting a 1-0 lead devolved into a 5-1 pothole.

That put an equally sharp Toledo starter, Casey Crosby in a position to win his second decision in as many bouts with the PawSox this season. But the Mud Hens bullpen―more specifically, Luke Putkonen―only needed four batters-faced to let the 5-1 lead devolve into a 7-5 PawSox lead in the bottom of the eighth.

That 7-5 advantage eventually turned into an 8-5 victory for Pawtucket, hardly the type of finish either starting hurler had arranged through six innings of one-run baseball. (If only this were Little League, the two must have thought.)

Crosby nearly matched Matsuzaka’s feat of back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the second before Josh Kroeger slugged the first pitch he faced over the right-field wall. Following that play, Tony Thomas smelled an open wound in the water, snuck in an infield single to short and promptly stole second base on the first pitch to Ronald Bermudez, though his teammate would strand him there.

The Mud Hens got to the bottom of their batting order before achieving their first baserunner, Argenis Diaz, who dropped a two-out single to shallow ground in straightaway center.

Other than that and a fourth-inning walk to Matt Young, Matsuzaka would not let anyone on base through his five innings of work. Although, neither did Crosby through the fourth, fifth and sixth stanzas.

Crosby’s continued proficiency after the third-inning blemish held up the Hens long enough to exploit Tazawa and usurp the lead in the top of the seventh. Young led off with a single, advanced to second on Brad Eldred’s walk, then came home on Eric Patterson’s one-out base hit.

Eldred found his way to third on Omir Santos’ sacrifice fly to centerfield, then came home on Tazawa’s balk with a 2-1 count on Audy Ciriaco, giving the visitors an identical 2-1 advantage.

One inning later, designated hitter Brad Eldred belted a three-run shot off Tazawa to right-center, carrying Justin Henry and Young home to break open a 5-1 lead.

Crosby gave way to Putkonen after letting his first two challengers on base in the bottom of the eighth. Putkonen’s first batter, a pinch-hitter in Nate Spears, doubled to center to score Thomas and put Ronald Bermudez on third. 

Pedro Ciriaco’s own two-bagger whittled the deficit down to 5-4. And two batters later, with Alex Hassan on first, Ryan Lavarnway thrust Putkonen’s first pitch over the left-field wall, restoring Pawtucket’s advantage at 7-5 with still no outs.

By the time there were two outs, Lars Anderson was on second and primed to come home on Thomas’ double to left, making it 8-5. 

PawSox pluses
Perhaps a change of scenery was all Kroeger needed to get the hang of the Pawtucket-Toledo matchup. After going 0-for-13 earlier this month during the team’s four-night stay in northwest Ohio, he is now a comparatively better (2-for-7) in this series with a pair of extra-base hits.

And besides getting the dinger, Kroeger was one of only two Pawtucket batters not to endure a strikeout from Crosby. The other was Lavarnway, who also drew a four-pitch walk on the Mud Hens southpaw to lead off the seventh.

Although the visiting starter’s arm was on its last ounces in their final encounter, Thomas stood out by getting half of Pawtucket’s four hits off of Crosby, the second being a leadoff single in the eighth. And both times he was on board, Thomas’ aggressive baserunning was undeniable, which only made it fitting that he had the honor of starting the epic eighth-inning rally.

Between Matsuzaka and Tazawa, Choryne Spoone was just as sharp as Matsuzaka was in his relief stint, pitching a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Mark Melancon was likewise swift to suppress the Mud Hens in the ninth, garnering his third straight save in a span of five days.

Sox stains
It only took Tazawa two challengers to match his countryman Matsuzaka’s total baserunners as he yielded a single and a walk to start his relief outing in the seventh. Two batters and six pitches later, Matsuzaka’s bid for a Triple-A rehab victory was once again squandered.

By inning’s end, Tazawa had thrown only 11 of his 21 pitches for strikes and incurred two hits, two earned runs and a lead-spilling balk on his tab.

Given a chance to make amends in the eighth, Tazawa instead quadrupled the deficit and swelled his line up to five runs, five hits and only 24 strikes out of 41 pitches.

Ironically, even with the blown save, the eighth-inning eruption by the PawSox meant Tazawa got credit for the win on a night when he was pretty much the lone occupant of the third-base clubhouse who didn’t deserve victory. On Saturday, he was Curt Schilling and the PawSox offense was the local state government. 

Mud Hens notes
When he benched Mauro Gomez in the bottom of the seventh, Crosby had thrown a season-high 10 strikeouts in a single start.

Ben Guez, called up from the Double-A Erie Seawolves at the start of this series, struck out against three different Pawtucket hurlers: Matsuzaka in the first, Spoone in the sixth and Tazawa in the eighth.

Young whittled a single off Tazawa in back-to-back innings, which on top of his walk against Matsuaka made him the only Toledo player to reach base twice, let alone three times, up to the two-out mark of the eighth inning. Eldred would promptly join his multi-hit company with his three-run blast in the eighth.

Between Crosby, Putkonen and Darin Downs, the Mud Hens pitching staff combined to deal with 11 PawSox batters in the bottom of the eighth. 

Rain pushed Saturday’s first pitch back by a little less than 15 minutes.

With his third no-decision in as many rehab starts at McCoy this season, Matsuzaka’s Triple-A record remains 0-1 in 2012 and 3-2 in his career with the Red Sox.

The Hens left only two men stranded on base, the Sox three.

On a night when it looked like the PawSox would lose for the seventh time when scoring first, they instead improved to 23-6 in that scenario.