ALLENTOWN, Penn. — Coming into Thursday night’s game, the IronPigs had gone a franchise-high 88 2/3 innings without a home run.
Pawtucket starter Matt Fox also had a streak of 26 straight innings without giving up a home run, so obviously, it would be home runs that would sink the PawSox 4-2 in their International League semifinal-round series opener against Lehigh Valley.
IronPigs catcher Erik Kratz was the first on the launch pad when he lifted a solo home run down the left field line before Brandon Moss topped Kratz in distance with an absolute shot to right field that literally left the park in the fourth.
The scoring started in the first when Rich Thompson singled to center to lead off the game. The International League leader in stolen bases then challenged catcher Luis Exposito and stole second before Scott Podsednik bunted him to third. A ground ball to second allowed Thompson to score and give Lehigh Valley a 1-0 lead. Kratz and Moss’ home runs put the ‘Pigs up 3-0 after four innings.
Fox was touched for three earned runs and exited after throwing 90 pitches over six innings.
“He got behind in the count a few times and when you get 2-0, 3-1, they did what guys are supposed to do in those situations and hit the ball hard. Overall though, he did a good job for us,” explained PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.
Brandon Duckworth, who was just activated off of the DL on Tuesday, came on to open the seventh inning and easily recorded the first two outs of the inning before a home run would bite him as well. Freddy Galvis took a fastball out to right field to extend the IronPigs lead to 4-1.
Offensively, the night started well with Che-Hsuan Lin lining a base hit up the middle and Joey Gathright popping a bunt between three fielders to put runners on first and second. Lehigh Valley starter Dave Bush got Daniel Nava to ground out to first, with both runners advancing. Lars Anderson then hit a ball back to Bush, who fired home to get Lin in a rundown, which eventually led to Gathright being called out when both he and Lin were standing on third base.
Pawtucket battled what they viewed as different strike zones for the two teams all night long.
The confrontation nearly boiled over in the sixth inning when Hector Luna was called out looking on a 3-2 pitch. In the bottom of the inning, Moss drew a walk, leading Exposito to say something to home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez on his way out to the mound.
Gonzalez’ reply brought Beyeler out of the dugout for an animated discussion with the umpire. Beyeler survived the encounter without being ejected.
“That wasn’t our problem tonight,” said Beyeler after the game, referring to the issues with ball and strike calls. “We just left too many men on base, that was the problem. When you do that, you’re not going to win too many games.”
The Sox left nine runners on base and were just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Anderson tried to get a comeback going in the sixth by taking a 3-2 pitch from Bush well over the 17-foot high fence in right to cut the IronPigs lead to 3-1. It was a shortlived comeback, with Bush coming back to get the next three hitters without any further damage.
Pawtucket added their second run of the night off reliever Phillippe Aumont in the eighth. Nava led off with a walk and stole second ahead of a one-out walk to Luna.
A single by Will Middlebrooks loaded the bases and Exposito drove in a run with a ground ball to first to make it 4-2.
Game 2 of the series is tonight at 7:05 p.m., and Game 3 is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at McCoy Stadium.