PAWTUCKET – Even though he was the winning pitcher in the decisive game, Charlie Haeger wished to have the spotlight redirected elsewhere.
“The real hero you guys should be talking to is standing over there,” said Haeger while pointing in the direction of Chris Martin’s locker.
Martin may have recorded the two most important outs in the contest. With a trip to the Governors’ Cup finals hanging in the balance, the right-handed Martin was the picture of professional composure. Inheriting a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, Martin faced Rochester pinch hitter and major-league veteran Chris Parmelee. Martin fanned him on a 91 mph fastball. Then facing yet another major-league hitter in Aaron Hicks, Martin induced a lazy fly ball to left field.
“That was the game for intents and purposes,” summed up PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina.
Thanks in large part to Martin’s escape artistry, the Pawtucket Red Sox’ bid to capture back-to-back Governors’ Cup titles remains very much alive. Martin and Haeger teamed up with Ryan Rowland-Smith and Anthony Carter to toss a four-hit shutout in Sunday’s 3-0 win over the Rochester Red Wings in Game 5 of the Governors’ Cup semifinals, a game witnessed by a small but enthusiastic gathering of 1,618.
The win propels Pawtucket to its second straight International League championship series. South Division champion Durham will serve as the final roadblock in hopes of the local entry keeping the Governors’ Cup trophy around McCoy Stadium for an additional year. The best-of-five finals begin Tuesday night in Durham before the scene shifts to Pawtucket for Game 3 on Friday night. If necessary, Games 4 and 5 will also take place at McCoy.
As fate would have it, Durham and Pawtucket played for the I.L. title back in 2003. The Bulls won three straight, the last one coming on Pawtucket’s home soil.
As the champagne flowed freely in the home clubhouse following yet another clinching moment for his ball club, DiSarcina reflected on Martin’s clutch mound efforts.
“For him to come through like that with the big strikeout, it’s just huge,” expressed the victorious skipper. “Those are the moments he can hopefully draw back on and take into his big-league career.”
Martin didn’t get to rest after extinguishing the initial threat by Rochester. He pitched a total of 2.1 innings, and didn’t allow a hit, while walking one while striking out two.
“I’ve been in big situations like that before. Even though it’s the postseason, you don’t want to change too much,” said Martin, who posted a 2.25 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 72 innings split between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket. “We want to win and get another Governors’ Cup.”
All the offense the PawSox would need on the afternoon came in the second inning. After Red Wings starter Virgil Vazquez retired the first two batters, Pawtucket rallied by notching four straight hits – all of them courtesy of the last four hitters in DiSarcina’s lineup.
No. 6 hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker began the hit parade with a triple that was aided by a bobble by right fielder Eric Farris. Dan Butler then lined a shot up the middle to plate the game’s first run.
The PawSox player who delivered the game-winning hit that helped clinch the North Division crown came up next, as Justin Henry lined a double into the left-center gap to put two baserunners in scoring position. Swinging at the first pitch, No. 9 hitter Heiker Meneses capped things off with a bloop single to center field that scored both Butler and Henry.
“Meneses had the huge two-out hit – which we haven't really had much of over the last two weeks,” DiSarcina said. “He didn't try to do too much. He didn't hit the ball really hard. He found the right part of the bat and the right part of the field, and those are two huge runs.”
As for Haeger, he kept the Red Wings at bay through five innings before running into trouble in the sixth. Two singles and a hit by pitch helped load the bases for visitors with no outs. Haeger stayed in to strike out cleanup batter Jeff Clement before DiSarcina opted to hand the game off to the bullpen.
In earned the win, Haeger tossed 5.1 innings of four-hit ball. The knuckleball specialist struck out four and walked three while throwing 57 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
“It wasn’t a fantastic day with the knuckleball by any means, but I was able to keep them off balance and change speeds,” said Haeger, noting that he mixed in his fair share of fastballs.
Rowland-Smith got the last out in the eighth and retired the first two Red Wings in the ninth. Carter finished the series off by getting a groundball to shortstop. It was Carter’s first save of the playoffs after recording 24 saves during the regular season.
While DiSarcina didn’t formally announce his rotation for the Durham series, all signs point to prospect Anthony Ranaudo drawing Game 1 honors. Ranaudo pitched the first game of the Rochester series, though was pulled after two innings due a high pitch count.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03