PAWTUCKET – Nate Spears did more than achieve hero status after belting a game-ending two-run home run in Pawtucket’s 4-3 win against Louisville Tuesday afternoon. Rewarded with his efforts with a shaving cream pie in the face – courtesy of Michael Bowden, Luis Exposito and Ryan Lavarnway – Spears reminded the masses that the PawSox feature contributors who may not appear on any prospect watch list, but they are just as instrumental to the cause.
It takes players of varying backgrounds to win games at the minor-league level. When the lefthanded hitting Spears sent a 3-1 fastball into the right field bullpen, he touched off a jubilant celebration that saw teammates mob him and bang on his helmet as he crossed home plate. Such appreciation reveals just how tight the bonds are between teammates, be they phenoms, journeymen or guys like Spears, who this season has logged time in both the infield and the outfield for manager Arnie Beyeler.
“These guys are here because they can play,” said Beyeler. “He was in big-league camp all spring along with [Drew] Sutton and he’s a dangerous guy.”
Spears almost didn’t get a chance to play such a prominent role. Louisville reliever Carlos Fischer retired the first two Pawtucket batters in the ninth inning before Che-Hsuan Lin worked a 10-pitch walk, one of four the centerfielder recorded. Lin represented the tying run at first base as Spears stepped up.
“It was a great at-bat by Lin. He was fouling off pitches and if he doesn’t do that, I’m not even given the opportunity to win the game,” said Spears, still sporting shaving cream in the locker room afterwards. “You’re timing a guy when you’re on deck because every pitch counts. The more pitches I get to see, the more comfortable I’m going to be in there.”
Said Beyeler after Pawtucket achieved come-from-behind status after scoring twice in the ninth for the second consecutive game, “I’m really proud of the guys. We just haven’t given them that 27th out over the past couple of days. We’ve been fortunate to come out on the good side of it.”
Spears’ long ball, his eighth of the season, was one of four the PawSox and Bats combined for. First baseman Lars Anderson put the home team up 2-0 when he deposited a 1-1 offering into Pawtucket’s bullpen in the first inning. Former Red Sox outfielder Jeremy Hermida responded by blasting two solo home runs, both coming at the expense of starter Matt Fox.
The two Hermida blasts were the only runs Fox permitted in 5 2/3 innings, which also included nine strikeouts and two walks. Scott Atchison pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, keeping it a 2-2 game when Hideki Okajima entered the fray in the eighth inning. Louisville broke the deadlock in the top of the ninth, Mike Costanzo connecting for a sacrifice fly against Okajima. Jason Rice earned his second win after inducing a double play to end the ninth.
The PawSox will enjoy their final off day of the season Wednesday before returning to work Thursday at home against Buffalo. Right now the team is very much in the playoff discussion, both in terms of the division and wild card. To still be playing meaningful baseball in August is all a minor-league club can ask for, which is why the PawSox aren’t willing to look too far ahead.
“We can’t look at the big picture right now,” Spears said. “We’re just going game-by-game, but everything’s good in the clubhouse.”
Jed Lowrie (left shoulder strain) preceded Anderson’s 11th home run with a groundball single through the right side, the lone hit he collected in three at-bats as Pawtucket’s designated hitter. Lowrie will play shortstop Thursday and get three or four at-bats before returning to the DH spot Friday.
“He had some good swings and was able to get down the line,” Beyeler said. “His legs were a little tired [on Monday] but he felt pretty good today.”
Lowrie will be seeking to get some righthanded at-bats when Buffalo comes to McCoy Stadium. All five of the switch hitter’s turns have come from the left side.
“That’s something we have no control over,” Beyeler said. “We’ll probably match Jed with [pitching coach Rich Sauveur, who throws lefthanded] over the next couple of days just to give him some work.”
EXTRA BASES: Spears hit Pawtucket’s first walk-off home run since Dusty Brown performed the feat May 27 last year. He also shared an embrace with hitting coach Chili Davis. “I’ve been working with Chili a lot lately.” … Thursday is team poster night as fans will receive a full-color keepsake of this year’s PawSox team. Between 5-6 p.m., fans will be allowed on the field for pictures and autographs.