PAWTUCKET â As his players danced to loud music while taking swigs of beer in the other room, Arnie Beyeler stood in the managerâs office, his t-shirt completely soaked after several players cornered him near the visitors dugout and dumped beer all over him.
The fruits of victory are sweet if youâre the Pawtucket Red Sox. The locals clinched the I.L. North Saturday night after rallying for a 12-7 victory past Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The division title is the franchiseâs first since 2003 and the fifth since 1991, when division play was introduced in the International League.
It was a night that went from promising to bleak back to promising, the roller coaster of emotions coming over the span of nine innings and 355 pitches. The PawSox vaulted out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, the key blow a grand slam off the bat of Will Middlebrooks, his first at the Triple-A level.
The good times slowly wore off the game progressed. When Scrantonâs Doug Bernier blooped a two-run single down the right field line in the sixth inning, a feeling of âcork the champagneâ descended upon McCoy Stadium. Bernierâs single saw Scranton go from a run down to up 6-5.
Lehigh Valley had put the finishing touches on a 3-0 win when Pawtucket came to bat in the eighth. The magic number figured to remain at a lone game for another night with the IronPigs pulling to within one game of the PawSox with each club looking at two games remaining in the regular season.
Thankfully the PawSox still had time (and at-bats) on their side. Thankfully they had Ryan Lavarnway in the lineup.
Che-Hsuan Lin and Drew Sutton got on to begin the inning, setting the stage Lavarnway. The boast the catcher/DH has provided since coming aboard in mid-June cannot be understated, as Pawtucket stood two games over .500 (32-30).
A heart-of-the-order slugger who knows how to come through when the stakes are high, Lavarnway connected on a curveball and sent it into the flower bed for a game-changing, three-run home run. Lavarnway's home run was his 32nd of the season, his 18th in 61 games with Pawtucket.
The PawSox refused to stop there, however. With two outs and the bases loaded, Jose Iglesias jumped all over the first pitch and sent it into left field for a two-run single. The onslaught continued as newcomer Joey Gathright came to the plate with the bases still loaded. Gathright entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner for Sutton and scored on Lavarnwayâs blast.
Gathright plated two more runs with a single, capping off an eighth that saw the home team put up a crooked number and bail out the bullpen on a night in which Junichi Tazawa surrendered two runs and Trever Miller allowed a run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings.
What made this comeback extra noteworthy is that the PawSox arenât known as a rallying bunch. Entering Saturday Pawtucket was 4-47 when trailing after seven.
You can now add another win â one that concluded with a championship celebration on the mound in which champagne was sprayed and t-shirts and caps were doled out.
âWe havenât been able to pick up the pitching and the bullpen much this season,â said outfielder Daniel Nava, âbut given what was on the line for us, it was nice.â
Hereâs some reaction from the clubhouse:
Arnie Beyeler, manager
âThe guys the whole night. We kept grinding and were able to get the big hits. To come back like that is what these guys have been about all year.â
The PawSox can now officially start to prepare for the second season, something that clearly wasnât lost on Beyeler.
âThe way things work, our pitching is kind of set. As long as we didnât have to play a play-in game âŠ weâre just going to let guys keep on playing. We donât have that many players so guys have to play. Some of them are battling for situations to keep getting looked at up top (by Boston) and this is a time for them to keep going.â
âI told a couple of guys that this is the most memorable moment in my career. Itâs awesome. I won a championship in Cuba one time, but this is different. Iâm glad to have this opportunity to go to the playoffs.â
While the opponent is still unknown â either Lehigh Valley or Gwinnett will get into the four-team tournament as the wild-card entry, what is known is that the PawSox will hit the road when the playoffs open up this Wednesday. Pawtucket will play the first two games of the best-of-five first-round series on the road before returning to McCoy Stadium for Game 3 and possibly Games 4 and 5.
Scranton/WB 102 012 010 â 7-10-0
Pawtucket 500 000 07x â 12-11-1
Manuel Banuelos, George Kontos (2), Hector Noesi (6), Eric Wordekemper (7), Kevin Whelan (8) and Austin Romine. Tony Pena Jr., Junichi Tazawa (6), Trever Miller (7), Royce Ring (8), Randy Williams (9) and Luis Exposito.
2B: Doug Bernier, Lars Anderson. 3B: Jordan Parraz HR: Mike Lamb; Will Middlebrooks. Attendance: 8,162. Time: 3:32.