PAWTUCKET — After the Pawtucket Red Sox had eked out a pair of stunning – and thrilling – come-from-behind, one-run victories the previous two nights, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre returned the favor on Tuesday evening.
The RailRiders notched two unearned runs, one each in the sixth and seventh frames, to thump the PawSox, 2-1, before a sparse crowd of 4,430 fans at McCoy Stadium.
Manager Dave Miley’s crew rode a superb mound outing from starter Graham Stoneburner, not to mention fellow righty Dellin Betances, to end Pawtucket’s win streak at three.
The good news: Pawtucket, which had captured 14 of their last 16 – including five of the previous six against this same foe – had entered the series finale against the RailRiders with a 3½-game lead over Rochester in the International League’s North Division. It fell to 75-62, while the cellar dwellers improved to 65-73.
The defeat ruined a solid start by Steven Wright, the PawSox’s 28-year-old knuckleballer from California. Wright allowed four hits, an unearned run and two walks while whiffing a half-dozen in six innings of work.
In the end, relievers Brock Huntzinger (who took the loss and dropped to 2-2), Rubby De La Rosa and Brayan Villareal yielded just three hits and a walk while striking out two between them.
Stoneburner (4-5) escaped with the victory with a two-hitter through six. He walked one and struck out a trio. Even with the loss, skipper Gary DiSarcina’s bunch won the season series against SWB, 11-5.
Betances, who often fired fastballs over 95, earned his fifth save. He allowed only a seventh-inning two-bagger to Jonathan Diaz and a free bag while fanning four over the final three frames.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Pawtucket got its fan base rocking when, after Betances whiffed Heiker Meneses, he hit Jackie Bradley Jr. with a delivery. With a full count on Brock Holt, though, RailRiders’ catcher J.R. Murphy threw out Bradley Jr. attempt to rob second.
Holt immediately walked, but Diaz flew out to short to end it.
The PawSox had opened the scoring in the back half of the third when Jeremy Hazelbaker pounded his 11th dinger of the campaign into the right-center field bleachers. The blast came on Stoneburner’s 1-1 delivery, and occurred with one down.
Wright, meanwhile, quietly had recorded eight straight outs before walking No. 9 batterAddison Maruszak with two retired in the top of the third, though managed his fourth strikeout against Corey Patterson to end the frame.
He yielded his first hit of the game when J.R. Murphy poked a bloop hit just off the glove of shortstop Heiker Meneses in short center to start the fourth. The RailRiders’ third batter, Ronnier Mustellier, then ripped a shot to deep right, but Bryce Brentz hustled back and made a stellar snag on the warning track to prevent any damage.
Wright responded by fanning Dan Johnson and forcing designated hitter Randy Ruiz to fly harmlessly to second.
It looked as if Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had solved the knuckleball specialist in the fifth after Adonis Garcia drove a one-out single to center and Neil Medchill knocked a ground hit through the hole between third and short.
Meneses, however, made a diving snag of Maruszak’s hard bouncer up the middle and passed the ball with his glove to second baseman Brock Holt. He then fired to first to complete the superb 6-4-3 twin killing.
The RailRiders managed to knot it 1-1 in the sixth; Wright walked leadoff batter Corey Patterson, and Murphy sent him to second with a ground single to left. Both moved up on a passed ball, and Patterson raced home on Mustellier’s groundout to short.
With Murphy still at second, though, Wright whiffed Johnson and got Ruiz to pop out to Bradley Jr. in shallow center.
Following Brentz’ homer, Stoneburner settled himself nicely, retiring 11 consecutive PawSox through the sixth. Six came via groundout and two by whiff.
DiSarcina replaced Wright with righthander Brock Huntzinger in the top of the seventh, and he immediately surrendered to Adams a hit up the middle. He sprinted to third after Garcia reached on Holt’s fielding miscue of a bouncer to second, and Adams scored the go-ahead run after Medchill drove a hit to center.
Maruszak then roped a low liner to Huntzinger, who made the catch and threw to first for the double play, and the hurler escaped further damage after getting Patterson to foul out to first baseman Drew Sutton.
Jonathan Diaz greeted Dellin Betances in the seventh with a crushed, one-out double down the left-field stripe, but nothing came of it as the reliever struck out both Hamilton and Brentz. Remarkably, he was just the first Pawtucket baserunner stranded.
EXTRA BASES: Boston traded righthander Clayton Mortensen to Kansas City on Tuesday for outfielder Quintin Berry, while the PawSox added reliever Brayan Villareal, who had been optioned from the parent club, to replace Mortensen’s spot.
Mortensen had begun the season with the Red Sox, mustering a 1-2 mark with a 5.34 ERA in 24 relief appearances prior to being reassigned to Pawtucket on July 4. He had six relief outings with the PawSox in July before moving into the starting rotation in August.
In five starts, he went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA, and garnered a 3-0 overall record (2.47 ERA) in 14 tilts (six of them starts).
As for the 28-year-old Berry, he spent the majority of last season with the Detroit Tigers, where he hit .258 and recorded 10 doubles, six triples, two homers and 29 RBI in 94 games. He also was a flawless 21-for-21 in stolen-base tries.
Berry, a fifth-round pick by Philadelphia in 2006 after starting at San Diego State University, played in 39 tilts with Triple-A Toledo in 2012 and hit .270 with 19 steals in 22 attempts. The left-handed hitting outfielder opened the season with the Mud Hens, batting .168 in 49 games (mostly in center) while gathering 15 stolen bags.
He later landed a job with the Omaha Storm Chasers, Kansas City’s Triple-A club, in early June and compiled a .222 average with 13 thefts.
Before Tuesday night’s tilt, if the season ended with it, the PawSox would face Norfolk in the I.L. semifinal set, with the playoff opener slated for Wednesday night, Sept. 4, in Virginia. After the second, the foes would return to McCoy Stadium for the final three games (the last two if necessary).
The third would start Friday night, Sept. 6; still, the Tides held a mere half-game lead over Rochester in the wild-card race.
Tickets for all possible Sox playoff contests are now on sale at the McCoy box office; fans also may charge ducats with any major credit card by calling (401) 724-7300 or visiting www.pawsox.com .
Should Pawtucket qualify for the post-season, the tickets for the Governors’ Cup semis and finals would be priced the same as the regular season -- $12 each for box seats and $8 for adult general admission access ($5 for children aged 12 and under, as well as senior citizens).
Fans who purchase a “PawSox Playoff Pack” – a strip of box seats for all six potential home games – will receive a discounted price of only $66.
Pawtucket tonight will open a pivotal four-game set against Syracuse at the ballyard. Righty knuckleballer Charlie Haeger (4-4, 4.86 ERA) will take on lefty Danny Rosenbaum (7-10, 3,78) at 7:05 p.m., while a PawSox pitcher still to be determined will face righthander Yunesky Maya (8-7, 3.91) at 7:05 p.m., Thursday … The series will continue Friday at 6:15 p.m., with Anthony Ranaudo (2-1, 3.42) taking on Jeff Mandel (3-8, 4.78) … As for the home season finale, knuckleballer Allen Webster (8-4, 3.68) will take on fellow righthander Caleb Clay (5-2, 2.57) at 6:05 p.m … On Friday night, PawSox officials will treat followers to a special fireworks display (to country music) following the game against the Chiefs, and also conduct an always-superb “Closing Home Game Celebration” on Saturday evening.