PAWTUCKET — It took one of the top hitters in the National League to ruin what would have been one of the most memorable afternoons of Pawtucket Red Sox southpaw Chris Hernandez’s career.
Hernandez carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of Sunday afternoon’s contest against the Louisville Bats, only to watch rehabbing Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto break it up with a leadoff single.
That turned out to be the only hit Hernandez allowed in a magnificent outing that lasted 7 1/3 innings, and despite a late comeback by their visitors, the PawSox were able to eke out a 4-3 triumph on the hottest day of the season (84 degrees) at McCoy Stadium.
Hernandez, who led the PawSox in losses (nine) a season ago, was brilliant in striking out a career-high nine batters and walking two as he quietly kept everyone on the edges of their seats with his no-hit bid.
Enter Votto, the 2010 N.L. MVP who landed on the disabled list last month with a left quadriceps strain and was beginning a rehab stint with the Bats. He led off the seventh by lining a 1-1 pitch from Hernandez into center field for a base hit. But Hernandez shook that off and came back to strike out the next batter he faced and get Felix Perez to tap into a 3-6-3 double play.
Hernandez was locked in a neat pitchers’ duel with Chien-Ming Wang, who was a 19-game winner with the New York Yankees in 2006 and ’07. Wang, who leads the International League in innings pitched (81), worked the first six innings, and despite allowing 11 hits, only gave up two earned runs.
The PawSox broke on the board first with an unearned run in their opening swings. With one out, Mike McCoy dropped a double down the right-field line, and with two gone, he scored on a throwing error on an infield single by Carlos Rivero.
Second baseman Argenis Diaz made an excellent grab on a sharp grounder up the middle by Rivero, but his throw to first bounced in the dirt and Votto was unable to scoop it up.
The hosts didn’t score again until the sixth when Rivero and Corey Brown led off with singles and Christian Vazquez drove in Rivero with a sacrifice fly to right.
With Wang out of the game, the PawSox added to their lead in the seventh off the Bats’ bullpen on a sacrifice fly to left by McCoy and a run-scoring base hit to right by Travis Shaw.
Hernandez’s day was finished with one gone in the seventh after he walked Thomas Neal and saw his pitch count swell to a season-high 102.
That’s when the Bats came back, collecting three straight hits with two outs off reliever John Ely, one of them a two-run homer by Bryan Anderson that he deposited into the vacant bleachers in right-center field.
But with the tying run on first, Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles brought in Chris Resop to relieve Ely, and Resop got Shelly Duncan to sky out to left to end the threat.
With one out in the ninth, the Bats added a little drama to the game and cut their deficit in half when Perez lofted a 1-1 pitch from Resop over the Bats’ bullpen in right for his ninth homer of the season. But Resop bounced back and retired the next two batters he faced to end the suspense and pick up his third save of the year.
Five different players – Justin Henry, Dan Butler, McCoy, Rivero, Brown – collected two hits each for the PawSox, and McCoy, Butler, and Brown each doubled to right for their first hits of the day.
The PawSox will seek their fourth straight victory tonight at 7:05 p.m. when their series with the Bats continues. They will send Allen Webster (3-2, 2.81) to the mound, and he will be opposed by another rehabbing Reds player, Mat Latos, a 14-game winner in each of the last three seasons.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24