PAWTUCKET — It was deemed a terrific Sunday afternoon showdown between two of the premier pitching prospects in the minors today: Pawtucket Red Sox righty Allen Webster, called by Baseball America Boston’s No. 2 hill prize, and Indianapolis’ righthander Gerrit Cole, the Pirates’ top overall prospect.
The pairing didn’t disappoint, at least not early on. Through the first three frames, Webster had retired nine straight, the final four via whiff, while Cole had yielded a harmless, leadoff double to Brandon Snyder in the second.
Cole did so while firing heaters as quick as 98 mph and breakers in the mid-80s, and Webster reached 96.
In the end, Webster took the battle, doing so with a lot of help from Jonathan Diaz, who’s been on quite the offensive surge of late. Diaz finished 2-for-3 with a triple, a walk and stolen bag, three RBI and two runs scored as Pawtucket manufactured an elementary 11-3 victory over the Indians before 5,033 fans at McCoy Stadium.
With this one outing, Diaz raised his average from .193 to .209.
Other offensive stalwarts included designated hitter Justin Henry (2-for-4, two doubles, three RBI); Brandon Snyder (2-for-4, two-bagger, two runs, stolen bag); Brock Holt (1-for-3, double, sacrifice fly, RBI); and Jackie Bradley Jr. (1-for-4, RBI, three runs).
Webster lasted five-plus frames, yielding just one hit but five walks while fanning seven. He closed with 92 pitches, 48 for strikes, but improved to 3-0.
“I think he had five walks, and they came in the last two innings of his outing; that jacked up his pitch count,” offered skipper Gary DiSarcini afterward. “As much as you’d like to see him go six or seven, you just can’t do this. It’s too early in the season.
“I still thought he did a good job in those first three innings,” he added. “His fastball by itself can get hitters out … but he still doesn’t have the whole package. We haven’t seen him have all four pitches in one game yet, but he definitely took a step in the right direction (Sunday).”
Stated Webster, who bettered his ERA from 2.52 to 2.40: “I felt great the first four innings, but – in the fifth – I had some mechanical issues. The defense definitely got me through it (with a double play).”
When it came to facing Cole, he indicated that wasn’t on his mind.
“You just worry about pitching and doing your job,” he said. “You just want to keep your team in it by throwing good pitches.”
DiSarcina spoke highly of Diaz’ recent prowess with the bat.
“Jonny started the season something like 3-for-35, but he’s done a lot of cage work,” he noted. “He was hitting a lot of fly balls, but now he’s straightened it out and hits a lot of line drives. Over the past couple of weeks, he’s been one of our most consistent performers at the plate. He’s doing a good job, and that’s because of the work he puts in.”
With the decision, the Sox improved to 26-18, and remained in first place in the International League’s Northern Division. Indianapolis fell to 31-14, but still owned the best record in the entire I.L.
As for Cole, who entered the clash with a 2.55 ERA, he went 5 2/3, allowing six hits, eight runs (all earned) and three walks with four strikeouts. He also hit a batter and took a balk while throwing 103 pitches, 63 on the plate.
He dropped to 3-2
The PawSox held a 4-1 cushion entering the sixth, but that’s when they broke it open, sending nine to the plate and notching a quintet.
Snyder began the flurry with a ground hit to left, then robbed second and moved to third on a passed ball before Cole walked Jeremy Hazelbaker. With Hazelbaker on second via the steal, Diaz then popped a bloop hit to shallow right to plate Snyder.
Still, with no one out and Hazelbaker stationed at third, Diaz robbed second, and the former scored on Jose Iglesias’ sacrifice fly to right, while Diaz hustled home on Brock Holt’s sac fly to the same spot.
With two down, Cole walked Alberto Rosario, and Indy skipper Dean Treanor replaced him with righty Erik Cordier. Jackie Bradley Jr. greeted him with a line-drive single to right, sending Rosario to third, and Henry bashed a two-run two-bagger down the right-field line to make it 9-1.
At one point early in the contest, Webster fanned six consecutive Indians, and there was talk in the press box as to whether he would make a run at the club record of nine straight strikeouts by Ryan Rupe; he had held the mark since July 14, 2003.
But Webster, who had retired 11 straight since his opening pitch, yielded a walk to Felix Pie with two down in the fourth, and he stole second before Webster issued a free base to clean-up hitter Matt Hague.
That prompted a visit to the hill from pitching coach Rich Sauveur.
On a full-count delivery, Jared Goedert slapped a ground single to left to plate Pie, but with Hague at second, Webster struck out Carroll to halt the mini-surge.
In the bottom half, Cole managed to get quick outs, but then he hit Snyder, perhaps in response to his second-inning two-bagger. Hazelbaker then ripped a ground hit into center to push Snyder to second, and Diaz immediately ripped a two-run triple to the left-center gap.
(It should be noted Diaz didn’t get his first extra-base hit until May 12, or his first homer until May 15. He also was hitting just .125 against righties so far this spring).
Amazingly, Cole then balked in Diaz, and the Sox held a 3-1 advantage.
It looked like Indianapolis would assemble a rally of its own in the top of the fifth after Webster walked both leadoff hitter Tony Sanchez and Jerry Sands. But that’s when the PawSox received a couple of gifts.
With No. 9 batter Ivan DeJesus in the box, Webster threw low to catcher Rosario. When the backstop saw Sanchez nearly halfway to third, he fired a strike to shortstop Jose Iglesias, who applied the tag.
DeJesus then bounced into an easy 5-4-3 twin killing to close the frame.
In the fifth, the hosts added another after Bradley Jr. walked and raced home on Henry’s first double of the game.
The following inning, the floodgates opened.
The lone hiccup for Pawtucket: With Graham Godfrey on in relief in the eighth, he surrendered DeJesus a leadoff single and Alex Presley a two-run blast into the visitors’ dugout to slice the deficit to 9-3.
The Sox extended its lead to the final score in the back half, courtesy of Brock Holt’s double, a Rosario hit, Bradley Jr.’s fielder’s choice and Bryce Brentz’ RBI single, all off reliever Duke Welker.
EXTRA BASES: Prior to the game, officials with Meeting Street School conducted a two-mile Walk-N-Roll fundraising event at Pariseau Field, adjacent to McCoy Stadium, and dozens of people of all ages helped collect $25,000 for the organization.
The PawSox will close this eight-game homestand with games against the Indians today (7:05 p.m.) and Tuesday (12:05 p.m.). Righthander Steven Wright (2-1, 3.16 ERA) is slated to start against fellow righty Brooks Brown (2-0, 3.66) tonight, while Rubby De La Rosa (0-1, 3.65) will get the nod and face southpaw Andy Oliver (3-1, 2.61).
The first 3,000 adult fans entering the ballpark on Friday, May 31 for the Sox’ 7:05 p.m. contest against Syracuse will receive a free PawSox travel mug, courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts and NESN. The mug will have images of Pawtucket celebrating its 2012 Governors’ Cup championship.
The following night, on June 1, the Sox will host their fifth annual Star Wars Night while battling the Chiefs again at 7:05 p.m. More than 30 Star Wars characters from the 501st New England Garrison – the largest sanctioned Star Wars Fan Club in the region – will meet and greet fans.
After the game, all fans will be treated to a spectacular fireworks display to the movie’s renowned music.