PAWTUCKET — It is August and baseball’s various pennant races are beginning to take shape.
The Pawtucket Red Sox and their “parent” team in Boston are locked in battles for first place in their respective leagues. The PawSox are chasing Lehigh Valley for first place in the International League North while maintaining a slight edge on the Gwinnett Braves for the league’s lone wild-card berth.
Boston, of course, hosts the New York Yankees for a three-game series beginning tonight with first place on the line in the American League East. No need to explain the impact of that series on New England baseball fans.
The PawSox fell 1 1/2 games behind Lehigh Valley in the International League North on Thursday night following a 5-4 loss to the Buffalo Bisons. Gwinnett lost its game against Charlotte and remained ½-game behind Pawtucket in the wild-card race.
Pawtucket, which had walked off with wins over Louisville on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon, left runners stranded in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth inning before Buffalo broke through against Michael Bowden in the top of the 10th.
Fernando Martinez, one of the New York Mets’ top prospects, doubled up the gap in right-center field to begin the inning. Fernando Perez pinch-ran for Martinez and moved to third base on a soft single by Nick Evans. Jesus Feliciano then blooped a single to left to plate Perez with the go-ahead run. Bowden worked out of more trouble, stranding a pair of runners and giving Pawtucket one last chance at a dramatic victory.
The PawSox made a bid in the bottom of the 10th when Lars Anderson reached on an infield hit to lead off the inning. Drew Sutton bunted Anderson over to second base. Che-Hsuan Lin came in to pinch-run for Anderson. Hector Luna then moved Lin to third with a ground ball to second base before Daniel Nava flied to left, ending a tedious game that lasted 3 hours and 44 minutes.
The most significant news coming out of Pawtucket’s victory was the offensive performance of Jed Lowrie, the rehabbing shortstop who could provide a spark for Boston when he proves his timing with the bat has come up to speed. Lowrie hit the ball hard three times on Thursday, flying out to deep center in the first inning, singling in the fourth inning and drilling a two-run double down the right field line in the bottom of the fifth to give the PawSox a 4-1 lead.
Both of those hits came from the left side for the switch-hitting Lowrie, who hit .386 from the right side with Boston and .206 from the left side of the plate.
Lowrie, who hit .368 in April for Boston while his teammates were struggling, came back to earth in May and June as his average fell to .270 before he injured his left shoulder, gave every indication he will be ready to help Boston when the time is right. And considering the recent struggles of Boston shortstop Marco Scutaro, who is carrying a mediocre .698 OPS this season, Lowrie’s bat might be a welcome addition to Boston’s lineup.
Buffalo scored three runs in the sixth inning off reliever Cleveland Santeliz to tie the game at 4. Ruben Tejada’s two-run single and a game-tying base hit by Luis Figueroa did the damage. PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler lifted Santeliz, who had retired just two of the six batters he faced, in favor of Tommy Hottovy, who got six outs without allowing a hit.
Scott Atchison came on to get the final out of the eighth inning. The veteran righthander wriggled out of trouble in the ninth, stopping a comebacker up the middle with two outs to keep the game tied.
Pawtucket almost pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Iglesias singled to right and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ronald Bermudez. After Nate Spears walked, a wild pitch put runners on second and third with one out. Brent Dlugach, who took over at shortstop for Lowrie, then struck out on a 2-2 pitch and Ryan Lavarnway flied to right field, ending the chance for Pawtucket to walk off with a win for the third straight game this week.
EXTRA BASES: The series continues tonight at 7:05 with former big leaguers Miguel Batista (1-0, 5.14) and Kevin Millwood (5-1, 4.12) squaring off for Buffalo and Pawtucket, respectively … PawSox catcher/DH Ryan Lavarnway has been named International League Player of the Month for July after hitting .362 in 28 games with 11 doubles 9 homers and 27 RBI … Drew Sutton rejoined the PawSox on Thursday and singled in his first two at-bats. He was taken off Boston’s roster so that pitcher Erik Bedard could be added … In other news, PawSox outfielder Ryan Kalish, who has been on the D.L. since April 22 with shoulder and neck ailments, went 0-for-2 with a walk while DH-ing for Lowell last night … Speaking of the New York Penn League, former Pawtucket resident Mason Williams got two more hits for the Staten Island Yankees … The PawSox do not have an off-day until Sept. 1 and will play 28 days in a row. If the minor leaguers had a union, this could be grievance material. Alas, they don’t.
Buffalo 000 103 000 1 – 5 – 11 - 0
Pawtucket 010 120 000 0 – 4 – 10 - 0
Buffalo battery: Owen, Sweeney (6), Hampson (7), Lujan (8) and Chavez. PawSox battery: Duckworth, Santeliz (6), Hottovy (6), Atchison (8), Bowden (10) and Lavarnway.
WP – Lujan (2-3). LP – Bowden (3-3). SAVE – Thayer (15).