PAWTUCKET — The Columbus Clippers showed Pawtucket last night why they are heavy favorites to successfully defend their Governors’ Cup championship trophy next month.
In a meeting of the International League’s two best teams, Columbus got a grand slam home run from Luis Valbuena in the second inning off PawSox starter Felix Doubront and seemed headed for an easy win until Pawtucket broke through for two runs in the bottom of the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate. Reliever Josh Judy got Jose Iglesias to ground into a close force play at second base to preserve a 5-2 victory.
The night belonged to Columbus starter Corey Kluber, a 25-year-old veteran of five minor league seasons. The 6-foot-4 righthander held Pawtucket without a hit over 6.2 innings before leaving after walking Brett Carroll and Hector Luna back-to-back in the seventh, upping his pitch count to 113. Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh then strolled to the mound and signaled for reliever Chen Lee, who retired Nate Spears on strikes to end Pawtucket’s first offensive threat of the game.
Pawtucket’s Luis Exposito broke up the no-hit bid with a leadoff single past shortstop Cord Phelps in the bottom of the eighth inning. Exposito subsequently was gunned down at home by Columbus left fielder Shelley Duncan on a medium deep fly ball for the third out. Duncan’s throw reached catcher Luke Carlin on the fly. Carlin had plenty of time to tag the lumbering Exposito, a catcher by trade and not noted for his fleetness afoot.
Carroll singled to left with two outs in the ninth. Hector Luna then legged out a routine grounder to short for a base hit, putting two runners aboard for Spears, who walked to load the bases. Exposito then singled in two runs before Judy came in to get the third out.
Kluber, drafted in the fourth round by San Diego in 2007, struck out 11 batters while walking five. The PawSox didn’t come up with anything that even resembled a base hit against the lanky righthander. Kluber touched 93 on the radar gun, relying on changing speeds and an effective breaking ball to elicit numerous swings and misses from the PawSox.
Pawtucket’s best hitter, Ryan Lavarnway, got the night off.
Doubront’s disappointing 2011 season, which has been hindered by injuries, took another hit. The big lefty allowed five runs on six hits in three innings. After yielding one run in the first inning, Doubront allowed three straight singles to open the second frame. Valbuena, a 25-year-old former big league second baseman with Seattle and Cleveland, then crushed a deep homer to right that broke the game open.
Doubront fell to 1-4 on the season and saw his ERA rise to 3.68.
Pawtucket, which saw its I.L. North lead over Lehigh Valley reduced to one game, is now 2-3 against Columbus this season. The teams play three more times in this series. Tony Pena Jr. (8-5, 3.54) pitches for Pawtucket in tonight’s 7:05 p.m. game against Columbus righthander Jeanmar Gomez (10-5, 2.45).
EXTRA BASES: Pawtucket placed infielder Brent Dlugach on the 7-day disabled list with a left shoulder strain … The PawSox added RHP Alex Wilson, who will start Thursday night’s game against Columbus … Wilson was 9-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts for the Sea Dogs … Lehigh Valley notched a 5-2 victory over Rochester on Tuesday night to close within one game of Pawtucket in the I.L. North.