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.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 4, Mud Hens 1

Swift summation
On a night when his performance earned it for him the most, Ross Ohlendorf ended his five-start winless skid and garnered his first victory since April 21 as the Pawtucket Red Sox held off the Toledo Mud Hens, 4-1, at McCoy Stadium Thursday night.

Ohlendorf threw a season-high 97 pitches over six scoreless innings, his first scoreless outing since his debut with the team April 10 versus Lehigh Valley. He allowed only three hits and one walk while striking out six and throwing three 1-2-3 stanzas.

In between, while facing an equally tricky Toledo left in Adam Wilk, the Sox whittled off two runs worth of support for their pitcher.

Nate Spears drew first blood on Pawtucket’s first hit of the night, slugging a solo shot to right field in the bottom of the second. Two innings later, Ryan Lavarnway augmented the lead to 2-0 by lacing a leadoff double to left, advancing to third on Lars Anderson’s sacrifice grounder and scoring via Mauro Gomez’s single.

The Mud Hens finally got a man past second base and tacked a run on the scoreboard once Clayton Mortensen took over the mound. With two outs in the seventh, Audy Ciriaco rolled a single into left, far enough for Ryan Strieby to score from second.

Mortensen went on to walk the bases loaded, but was bailed out with the 2-1 lead intact when Ben Guez flied out to centerfielder Ronald Bermudez.

Toledo’s first reliever, Rob Waite, was less fortunate in the bottom half. Tony Thomas reached first base on a fielding error, stole second, advanced to third on Bermudez’s sacrifice grounder, then scored ahead of Pedro Ciriaco’s base hit to make it 3-1.

The PawSox reaped one additional dose of insurance out of Waite in the eighth as Alex Hassan singled to center, scoring Lavarnway from second base. Waite promptly gave way to Darin Downs after that.

On the other side of the ball, pitching the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, Will Inman and Mark Melancon yielded nothing beyond a walk apiece. With the off day Wednesday, Melancon was able to save his second straight PawSox victory.

PawSox pluses
Ohlendorf bent, but didn’t break in his final inning of work. He was facing the troublesome top of Toledo’s batting order, which constituted all of the baserunners he authorized on the night, and surrendered his first extra-base hit to Guez. But he left Guez stranded on second base by getting top slugger and designated hitter Brad Eldred to whiff on a payoff pitch.

That would be Eldred’s second K in three bouts with Ohlendorf, who then sat down and turned things over to the bullpen.

Gomez hit 2-for-3 against Wilk and joined Anderson and Hassan as the only three PawSox batters not brook a strikeout from the Mud Hens’ southpaw starter.

Sox stains
All things considered, the only reprehensible actions on the part of any PawSox players was Mortensen spilling the shutout bid and Spears’ fielding error at third base that helped to prolong Mortensen’s drama in the seventh. In other words, it was all quite trivial at night’s end.

Mud Hens notes
Former Sox infielder Brent Dlugach was reactivated from the seven-day disabled list and batted ninth while attending second base for the Mud Hens in his first visit to McCoy since his offseason transfer.

And apart from his attire and the dugout he sat in, Dlugach didn’t look much different to the McCoy masses when it came to facing Ohlendorf. He struck out in each of his first two plate appearances.

Like Ohlendorf, Wilk lasted an even six innings, striking out seven but allowing two extra baserunners and two extra runs.

Bermudez was promoted from Double-A Portland earlier in the day for his Triple-A debut in the 2012 season. He started in centerfield and batted ninth in the PawSox order. Bermudez spent the bulk of the 2011 campaign in Pawtucket, putting in 57 appearances.

Ohlendorf was beaned by Matt Young’s line drive in the top of the first, allowing an infield hit to constitute the night’s first baserunner. Momentarily sore, Ohlendorf remained in the game.

Lavarnway’s fourth-inning double was his fourth two-bagger in his last seven games played. Gomez’s double nudged him into the team lead with 12 on the year, one more than Anderson and Josh Kroeger.

The PawSox will send Justin Germano out to counter Toledo’s Jacob Turner in Part II of this series Friday night.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Starting Nine: 9 Notable Facts Entering the PawSox-Mud Hens Series

After a league-wide off-day, the Pawtucket Red Sox will return home Thursday for a four-game set with the Toledo Mud Hens. By Sunday night, the teams will have completed their season series all within one calendar month, the Hens having taken three out of four at Fifth Third Field three weeks ago.

Although the Hens are in the middle of the International League pack with an exact .500 record (23-23) and are reeling on a 3-7 cold spell, they boast the circuit’s best road record at 11-7. The PawSox will counteract that with a league-leading 14-6 transcript at McCoy Stadium.

Here are nine other pregame pop-ups worth noting ahead of Thursday night’s first pitch.

·         Toledo boasts two of the top nine International League batting average leaders in outfielder Justin Henry (.322) and designated hitter Brad Eldred (.304).

·         Mud Hens starter Thad Weber is seventh in the league with a 2.54 earned run average, though he brooked the blame for Toledo’s only loss during Pawtucket’s visit May 1-4. But odds are the PawSox will not be dealing with him in this series as he just threw six innings and took the loss in Toledo’s last outing on Tuesday at Syracuse.

·         Only the Louisville Bats, who have consumed one more game off their schedule, have seen more of their batters strike out (385) than Toledo (373). But the Hens also lead the league with 200 walks.

·         On the other side of the ball, the Toledo pitching staff has allowed the most opposing walks to date with 211. Whether it is walks-for or walks-against, no other I.L. tenant has broken the 200 plateau in this category yet.

·         The Mud Hens’ baserunning will also be worth watching in the top half of every inning. They lead the league in total stealing attempts with 92 and have succeeded on a whopping 71 of those. Centerfielder Quintin Berry (19), shortstop Audrey Ciriaco (11) and left fielder Matt Young (10) are the team’s grand larceny ringleaders.

·         Although he only appeared in two games, Jose Iglesias led the PawSox offense in their previous series against the Mud Hens. He batted 4-for-7 with a double, a triple, two RBIs, two walks and two runs-scored.

·        Ross Ohlendorf and Doug Mathis, Pawtucket’s tentatively slated starter in the opener and finale, respectively, will both try to redeem a loss from their road bout with Toledo. Justin Germano figures to toe the rubber on Friday looking for his second straight win at the Hens’ expense.

·         The Sox are 5-7 versus the I.L. West so far, having split each of eight scheduled meetings with the Columbus Clippers. They have yet to crack open their season series with Indianapolis and Louisville.

·         The Mud Hens went 3-1 in their annual four-night stays in Pawtucket in both 2011 and 2010. The PawSox last won their season series with Toledo in 2009, when they went 5-3, a record they can match for this year with a sweep this weekend.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: May 23

1999: Terry Virtue, Eric Nickulas, Cameron Mann, Jeremy Brown and Marquis Mathieu all pitch in for a 5-3 win at Fredericton that gives Providence its eighth consecutive victory and a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.

2001: Former P-Bruins captain and coach Peter Laviolette earns his first NHL head coaching job with the New York Islanders.

2005: Trailing the series, 2-0, and the game, 1-0, for nearly 35 minutes of clock time, the P-Bruins get a crucial equalizer via Keith Aucoin with 6:54 to spare in regulation. In the ensuing overtime, Brad Boyes scores the walkoff goal to cut the Philadelphia Phantoms’ lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. The deciding strike comes only five seconds after Philadelphia had killed a bench minor.