PAWTUCKET – The third largest crowd of the year to fill McCoy Stadium expected to see a solid pitching performance on Tuesday night.
But instead of watching a strong outing from one of the Boston Red Sox’s top prospects, they saw one from a journeyman reliever who is his first full season as a starter in eight years.
Former Los Angeles Angels and Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Chris Bootcheck found a way to contain the PawSox for nearly six innings, and his teammates continued to play home run derby at the expense of their hosts in a 6-4 victory that was also the fourth loss in five games for the defending I.L. champions.
Bootcheck improved his record to 7-2 by throwing 5 2/3 innings of four-hit ball, striking out four batters, allowing two walks, and plunking a batter with a pitch. Unfortunately for Bootcheck, half of the hits he allowed left the yard, but the RailRiders finished the night with five homers of their own.
The ball was certainly flying out of the park on this night, for the PawSox launched three home runs of their own, two of them by leadoff batter Jackie Bradley Jr., who led off the third and eighth innings by depositing blasts into the bleachers in right-center field.
Meanwhile, all eyes were on PawSox starter Rubby De La Rosa, who came into the game with an impressive 20-inning scoreless streak that saw him pick up his first two wins of the season, strike out 18 batters, and surrender just nine hits and five walks.
But instead of building on his past few performances, De La Rosa took a step backwards. He only lasted three innings, striking out five batters, but allowing five hits and two runs, hitting three batters with pitches, and throwing a whopping 73 pitches.
Twenty-nine of those pitches came in the top of the second inning, which saw the visitors plate their two runs and score the first on a leadoff homer into the bleachers in right field by Cuban product Adonis Garcia, his first career Triple-A blast that just cleared the wall.
De La Rosa then plunked Brent Lillibridge with a pitch, gave up a sharp base hit to right by Josh Bell, and a long double to left by No. 9 batter Addison Maruszak that knocked in Lillibridge with ease.
The PawSox then tied the score on homers by Bryce Brentz in the bottom of the second and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the third. Brentz’s shot, his team-leading 16th, was an opposite-field clout that dropped into the bleachers in right-center, and Bradley Jr.’s was a carbon-copy blast.
But the RailRiders reclaimed the lead with some longball of their own off reliever Terry Doyle. Maruszak broke the tie in the fourth with a shot into the berm in left that was just his third home run in 225 at-bats, and Randy Ruiz lofted a shot into the bleachers in right-center in the fifth for his ninth home run in only 18 games.
Down 4-2, the PawSox had a couple of opportunities to cut their deficit, but baserunning blunders cost them each time.
In the fifth, Jeremy Hazelbaker singled and stole his team-leading 22nd base of the year, but with two outs, he tried to steal third while Bootcheck still had the ball on the mound and he was thrown out at third by the pitcher with ease.
And in the sixth, Drew Sutton led off with a ringing double to right-center, but one out later, he got caught leaning the wrong way on a large lead off second and was promptly picked off by Bootcheck.
The visitors padded their lead with another solo homer, this one coming from Lillibridge and clearing everything in left field and landing deep in the parking lot.
But the PawSox struck in the eighth, getting back that run on Bradley’s second home run and then putting runners on first and second with one gone on walks to Sutton and Mark Hamilton.
RailRiders manager Dave Miley then brought in his closer, Jim Miller, to put out the fire, and while Miller struck out the first batter he faced, he then allowed a run-scoring single to center by Xander Bogaerts that made it a one-run game.
The inning continued when Justin Henry drew a walk to load the bases, but Miller came back to strike out the next batter he faced and silence the threat.
The Railriders’ fifth home run (and 13th in the past four contests off the PawSox) came in the ninth off the bat of Dan Johnson, who roped a fastball from reliever Brock Huntzinger deep into the picnic area in right.
SWB reliever Dellin Betances, the fifth pitcher used by the RailRiders, then worked a 1-2-3 ninth to slam the door on the PawSox, striking out the first two batters he faced.
Before the game, PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina spoke highly about the performance turned in the night before by knuckleballer Steven Wright, who tossed a masterful nine-inning shutout, Wright’s third career blanking and the first whitewash in nearly two years by a PawSox pitcher.
“In his last couple of starts, he threw really well for the first three innings, but then kind of fell apart in the fourth and fifth with his command,” offered DiSarcina. “But I thought last night he did a very good job of getting groundballs, being down in the zone (with his knuckleball), and getting guys to swing at it.”
Wright, who is now 4-5 with a 4.14 ERA, surrendered seven hits and four walks, whiffed three batters, and received a nice helping hand from his defense.
“He really didn’t struggle at all,” DiSarcina said of Wright, who threw just 96 pitches, 67 of them for strikes. “He had some seven, eight, nine-pitch innings which really helped his pitch count, and he fielded his position well. … Bogaerts also made some good plays (at shortstop), (Brock) Holt played great at third, Sutton made a big pick at first, and Jackie made a great catch in center field. As a manager, that’s what you like to see.”
EXTRA BASES: Hazelbaker’s fifth-inning single extended his hit streak to eight games. … The attendance was 10,033. … A total of five batters were hit by pitches in the game. … The PawSox conclude their series with the RailRiders and their nine-game homestand tonight at 6:15 p.m. when they send Alfredo Aceves (3-2, 3.71) to the hill to face fellow righthander Caleb Cotham (2-4, 7.02). Post-game fireworks will again follow the game. … The PawSox will begin a seven-game road trip on Thursday that kicks off with a four-game series in Rochester against the Red Wings.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24