PAWTUCKET – Nobody wants to play extra innings on a chilly afternoon at McCoy Stadium, not when the wind is blowing hard across the outfield and runs are hard to come by.
Thursday was getaway day for the Gwinnett Braves and they certainly wanted to get on a plane and fly back home to balmy Georgia, where the temperature is 30 degrees warmer. The PawSox players wanted to finish the game, too, and enjoy a rare night off.
Instead, the two teams locked up in a 15-inning encounter that consumed 4 hours and 51 minutes of their lives. Gwinnett went home happy, earning a 4-2 victory thanks to Stefan Gartrell’s two-run homer off the left field foul pole in the top of the 15th inning.
The PawSox, taking a cue from their parent team in Boston, left the bases loaded twice in extra innings without scoring the game-winner. In the bottom of the 10th, Pawtucket loaded the bases with one out before Josh Reddick and Drew Sutton struck out swinging.
The PawSox loaded the bases again with one out in the 14th. After Hector Luna walked to load the bases, Reddick swung at the first pitch and popped to third. Sutton flew out to left to end the inning.
“When you have three or four squandered opportunities, as we did,” PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler said after the game, “the other team is usually going to take advantage. And that’s what happened to us.”
The game began as a pitcher’s duel between the Braves’ 20-year righthander Julio Teheran, a Pedro Martinez clone, and PawSox lefthander Andrew Miller, a 26-year-old former phenom who is trying to battle his way back to the big leagues.
Teheran, who made his big league debut five days ago against the Phillies (3 runs in 4.2 innings), pitched into the eighth inning, allowing just three hits and two runs while fanning seven. Surprisingly, he was allowed to throw 120 pitches before manager Dave Brundage finally hooked him with two on in the eighth inning.
Miller allowed only one hit – a wind-aided home run to left field by Wilkin Ramirez – and struck out six batters in five innings. He walked three batters and threw 85 pitches before leaving after pitching to one batter in the top of the sixth inning. That batter reached base on an error by second baseman Tony Thomas and eventually came home to score to tie the game. The contest would remain tied for nine more innings, although no one knew it at the time.
“I felt good,” Miller said in the locker room. “I walked a few too many guys. I need to be a little more economical with my pitches.”
Miller, whom Boston acquired in the offseason from Florida with hopes of straightening out the 6-foot-7 lefty’s pitching mechanics, has now pitched 30.2 innings for Pawtucket with a 2.35 earned run average. He has allowed 15 hits, walked 24 batters and struck out 25. His WHIP (walks and hits per inning) is a respectable 1.30. Obviously, the walks are way too high but allowing only 15 hits in 30.2 innings speaks to his greatest asset. Andrew Miller is a tough lefty for hitters to catch up with, even when he’s throwing in the low 90s, as he was on Thursday.
“I don’t think about that,” Miller said, putting off a question about how close he is to becoming a big league pitcher again. “My job down here is to get better. I’m trying to improve every time I pitch.”
Across the locker room, Rhode Island native Dan Wheeler stood at his locker. Wheeler, who went on Boston’s disabled list nine days ago, joined the PawSox on Thursday and pitched one efficient inning, walking one batter, striking out one, and throwing just 10 pitches.
“It felt good,” Wheeler said, repeating Miller’s line. “I wanted to be aggressive and throw strikes. I think my problem (with Boston) was missing location with my pitches. When you do that, big league hitters are going to do what they do. I want to concentrate on throwing quality pitches.”
“Wheeler did a nice job,” Beyeler admitted. “He threw the ball down in the zone. I think he’ll be back with us in a couple of days. We have to see how he bounces back.”
Wheeler, who treated his starving teammates to a steak dinner after the marathon game ended, said he’s coming to McCoy every night, whether he is scheduled to pitch or not.
“I’m staying at my parents’ home in Warwick,” he said. “Boston is on the road. I just want to keep the same routine. Where else am I going to go? I’m a baseball player.”
Wheeler will be in the dugout for tonight’s opener of an interesting series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who are 19-14 on the season and tied for first place with Lehigh Valley, top farm team of the Phillies. Pawtucket is 18-16 and just 1 ½ games out of first place. The PawSox took three of four games from the Yankees last weekend in Moosic, Pa.
The PawSox will send righthander Brandon Duckworth (4-1, 3.67) against Scranton righty Hector Noesi (1-1, 3.92) tonight. The series continues through Monday evening.
EXTRA BASES: PawSox second baseman Nate Spears suffered a gash on a finger of his left hand when hit by a pitch while trying to put down a bunt in the 10th inning. His status is uncertain for tonight’s game. Hector Luna, who was getting a day off and was the only available bench player, replaced Spears. “We’re going to have to do something,” Beyeler said, speaking to the injury bug that has decimated his bench. “I might use (pitcher) Tony Pena in the infield in an emergency. We’ve got 12 pitchers. We need a bench player.”
Pawtucket scored its two runs in the second inning when Drew Sutton led off with a single. Lars Anderson walked and then Daniel Nava singled home Sutton. Luis Exposito then brought home Anderson with a sacrifice fly. The next two batters went out and Teheran really settled down, mixing his pitches, adding and subtracting speed, throwing a 73-mile-per-hour curveball with a 93-mph fastball. Teheran threw 78 of his 120 pitches for strikes and seems on the fast track to the big leagues.
Pawtucket went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Sutton stranded five batters in scoring position. With two runners on in the bottom of the eighth, Sutton crushed a ball to right field into the teeth of the wind. The ball stayed in the air long enough for Gartrell to run it down and make a basket catch for the third out. It would have been a home run if not for the wind. Both of the Braves’ homers went to left field, where the crosswind was helping fly balls go deep. Such are the mysteries of baseball.