PAWTUCKET — Bring on the IronPigs!
The playoff-bound Pawtucket Red Sox completed their regular season quietly on Monday afternoon, finishing 20 games above .500 at 81-61 after rolling to a 7-3 win over Rochester.
The PawSox will begin a best-of-five playoff series Wednesday night at Lehigh Valley’s field in Allentown, Pa. against an IronPigs team that lost 10 of 16 games to Pawtucket during the regular season. Lehigh Valley nailed down the wild-card with a 4-1 rain-shortened win over Syracuse on Monday.
The PawSox team that takes the field on Wednesday evening will barely resemble the club that stormed to the I.L. North title with a strong second-half surge. Gone to Boston just in the last 24 hours are slugging Ryan Lavarnway, second baseman Nate Spears and pitcher Kyle Weiland.
When Boston’s ace pitcher, Josh Beckett, walked off the mound in Toronto with a sprained ankle during the fourth inning of Monday’s game, his pain could be felt all the way to Pawtucket.
“With the way things are going in Boston, who knows what is going to happen?” Beyeler said when asked about his pitching rotation for the playoffs. “I think I can say Matt Fox is our Game 1 starter and then tomorrow (Tuesday) we may know more.”
Weiland was called up on Sunday, ostensibly to fill in for Boston’s Erik Bedard, whose has a sore knee and will skip his next start on Friday. With Beckett hurting, Boston might reach down to Pawtucket for Fox.
Those are things Beyeler cannot control. The PawSox manager knows only that his resilient team has a date with the IronPigs on its playoff dance card.
The PawSox showed one more time on Monday why the word “resilient” is used so often in describing this ballclub. With Lavarnway off to Boston, new catcher Dan Butler stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second inning and launched a three-run homer that gave his team a 4-0 lead over Rochester.
Three innings later, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who had also homered in the second inning, hit a sacrifice fly. Brett Carroll followed with a two-run single and Pawtucket had a commanding 7-2 lead.
Middlebrooks is another recent acquisition from Portland. He was joined in Monday’s lineup by second baseman Ryan Khoury, also just up from Class AA ball.
Pawtucket’s new-look lineup got a boost from big league veteran Joey Gathright, who was signed by Boston as a potential base-stealing threat in the playoffs. Gathright showed his explosive speed by legging out two infield hits and easily stealing second base on one of those basepath trips.
Lefthander Greg Smith, who came to Pawtucket last month after getting released by Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, pitched six innings of two-run baseball for the PawSox.
“Greg did a nice job,” Beyeler said. “He had that one inning where he gave up two runs but he limited the damage. He was very efficient and gave us six innings.”
Beyeler turned to reliever Tommy Hottovy, who got five outs before turning the ball over to veteran lefty Trever Miller, another recent acquisition. Miller, who might be in Boston soon, retired the only two batters he faced before Scott Atchison came in to get the final two outs.
“We got some work in for some guys,” Beyeler said. “It’s the last game of the (regular) season. We wanted to keep them sharp.”
EXTRA BASES: The announced crowd was 9,482, giving Pawtucket a total attendance of 578,930 for the season … Butler had no homers in 66 at-bats with Portland before connecting in his first trip to the plate with Pawtucket. He is a 24-year-old product of the University of Arizona, signed in Boston as a non-drafted free agent in 2009. The righthanded hitter did have 11 homers for Salem in the Class A Carolina League this season before going up to Portland last month … former PawSox first baseman Aaron Bates homered for Rochester in the seventh inning.