PAWTUCKET â€” Leave it to the Yankees to spoil what would have been history-in-the-making for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Standing just three outs away from extending their winning streak to a franchise-best 10 consecutive games, the PawSox watched as reliever Garrett Mock melted down in an 8-6 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Wednesday afternoon at McCoy Stadium.
The Junior Yankees â€“ more like the Empire State Yankees, since the team is playing all of its home games in New York this season due to extensive renovations at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa. â€“ scratched out four runs in the top of the ninth to split the short two-game series.
Mock, who had been 2-for-2 in save opportunities, came on with Pawtucket protecting a 5-4 lead. The first three Scranton hitters reached via a single and two walks, bringing to the plate Francisco Cervelli, the displaced Yankees catcher who didnâ€™t take kindly to the news that he had been optioned to Triple-A as spring training wound down.
A reserve backstop with New York the past several seasons, Cervelli drilled a 1-1 offering from Mock for a two-run single that put Scranton in front, 6-5.The clutch knock boosted his season average to .173. The visitors tacked on two more runs as Mockâ€™s not-so-stellar day consisted of four runs on two hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning.
The PawSox, who despite the loss still sit in first place in the I.L. North, got a run back in the last of the ninth when Daniel Nava lofted a sacrifice fly. With one down and the bases loaded, Scranton closer Kevin Whelan fanned the No. 4 and 5 hitters in Pawtucketâ€™s lineup as Mauro Gomez and Will Middlebrooks went down swinging.
Speaking of Gomez and Middlebrooks, the pair each delivered two-run home runs in helping Pawtucket jump out to a 5-0 lead. Gomez blasted his seventh round tripper in the first inning while Middlebrooks went opposite field in the third. The homer was the third basemanâ€™s ninth and sixth in the past eight games.
Mike Rivera might be new to the PawSox, yet the catcher is hardly considered a newbie. Now in his 16th professional season, the 35-year-old Rivera drew the nod Wednesday, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
The sixth inning is where Riveraâ€™s gamesmanship was on full display. With Andrew Miller struggling to find the plate with any sort of regularity â€“ a walk, a hit batsman and a wild pitch resulted in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre having two in scoring position with two down â€“ Rivera made his way to the mound in hopes of calming down the lefty reliever.
Miller avoided further damage thanks to a 95-mph heater that Ramiro Pena took for strike three. On a day that saw the pitcher throw 10 of his 22 pitches for strikes, the silver lining is that Miller was able to escape unscathed.
â€śThe fact he was able to make the pitches when he had to, thatâ€™s a big step,â€ť said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.
Said Rivera, â€śI told Andrew to continue being aggressive. The situation we were in, he had first base open and the No. 9 hitter due up next, so we had to make sure not to give (Pena) anything. Itâ€™s a situation where you have to let the pitcher know what youâ€™re thinking and help him out.â€ť
The Red Sox were in the market for a catcher after the Orioles scooped up Luis Exposito, who was designated for assignment earlier in the month. At the time Rivera was sitting at home following his release from the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of spring training and contemplating whether he should hook on with an Independent League outfit. Thanks to a connection with PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur, Rivera was back in circulation. Rivera was a catcher on same the Winter Ball team in the Dominican Republic where Sauveur served as the teamâ€™s pitching coach.
Rivera has 189 MLB games under his belt with stints coming with the Tigers, Padres, Brewers and Marlins. A career .239 hitter in the majors with 13 home runs and 69 RBI, the Puerto Rican native figures to serve more in a mentoring capacity with prospect Ryan Lavarnway, who for the first time in his pro career doesnâ€™t have to worry about sharing the catching duties with someone close to him in age.
â€śAnytime you get a chance to play with someone whoâ€™s been in the game for a significant amount of time, thereâ€™s something to be learned,â€ť said the 24-year-old Lavarnway.
It appears that Rich Hill has very little left to accomplish in his quest to return to the big leagues following Tommy John surgery. The southpaw tossed his second scoreless inning in as many days Wednesday, clearing a hurdle that entailed working back-to-back days. He struck out two of the three batters he faced on his way to throwing 13 pitches, 10 for strikes.
â€śI thought he threw better (Wednesday) than he did (Tuesday),â€ť Beyeler noted.
Hill has allowed just two runs in nine innings since his rehab schedule began on April 7. The question of whether he feels thereâ€™s anything left for him to accomplish in the minors was met with Hill saying that he can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
â€śIâ€™ve been going out there and pitching with conviction every single time; there havenâ€™t been any holdbacks,â€ť he said. â€śEverything feels normal.â€ť
EXTRA BASES: A number of local schools attended Wednesdayâ€™s matinee. From Pawtucket were the following elementary schools: Agnes E. Little, Curvin-McCabe, Fallon Memorial, Flora Curtis, Potter Burns and Henry J. Winters. Those in attendance from Central Falls hailed from Ella Risk Elementary School, Segue Institute for Learning and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy. â€¦ Thursday will see the PawSox enjoy their first off day of the season before embarking 10-game road trip that begins Friday night with the first of four against Columbus.