PAWTUCKET â€“ Itâ€™s closing time for your Pawtucket Red Sox â€“ as in closing out the opposition and advancing to the Governorâ€™s Cup finals.
First things first as the PawSox still need to notch one more win against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Such a scenario could come to fruition as early as Friday night at Rochesterâ€™s Frontier Field after Pawtucket grabbed Game Two of its opening-round series Thursday night by a 3-2 count at McCoy Stadium before 2,214 supportive and at times enthusiastic fans.
The PawSox now lead the best-of-five series, two games to none. They can polish off the division champion Yankees tonight with Billy Buckner getting the pitching nod for Arnie Beyelerâ€™s crew.
Should Pawtucket knock off Scranton one more time, it would advance the franchiseâ€™s first championship series since 2003. Prospect Bryce Brentz drove in two of Pawtucketâ€™s runs â€“ one of which tied the contest at 2-all in the seventh inning â€“ and also wound up scoring the go-ahead run in the same frame, doing so in hustling fashion.
Sliding into third after Jon Hee singled through the right side of the infield, Brentz proved to be enough of a distraction that the throw from right fielder Cole Garner wound up getting past Yankees third baseman Kevin Russo. Realizing what was going on, Brentz quickly rose to his feet before scampering home with what proved to be the deciding run.
â€śI took a normal slide and the ball happened to get by,â€ť said Brentz, who now has five hits in his last three games after going hitless in his first four games with Pawtucket. â€śOnce I saw it go by, I took off.â€ť
In keeping with the theme of the opening game of this series, Pawtucket fell behind in the early innings before coming up with a number of timely hits that enabled the bullpen to finish the deal. The PawSox trailed 2-0 heading into the last of the fifth before beginning what proved to be the teamâ€™s 39th comeback performance of the season.
After leaving two runners aboard in the fourth, the PawSox began the fifth on a positive note with catcher Dan Butler reaching on an error that enabled him to get in scoring position. Butler didnâ€™t remain on the base paths for long as the next hitter, Brentz, blasted a shot to right-center for a run-scoring double that allowed Pawtucket to get on the scoreboard.
PawSox starter Chris Hernandez made sure it remained a one-run deficit, though it required some effort on his part. The first two batters reached in the sixth before Hernandez elicited a 6-4-3 double play. With a Scranton runner at third, Hernandez got Austin Romine to bounce out to third for the final out.
Hernandez wound up turning in his best performance since joining the PawSox in late July, working six innings of two-run ball that featured five strikeouts and two walks.
One night after three relievers combined to toss four scoreless innings, the PawSoxâ€™ bullpen clamped down once again. Brentzâ€™ heroics turned Scott Atchison into the winning pitcher after the veteran righty tossed 1 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. Atchison (10 pitches, six for strikes) then handed the ball off to Will Inman, who promptly retired the two batters he faced in the eighth.
By no means was it perfect, but Jose De La Torre was able to nail down the final three outs en route to picking up his second save in as many nights. De La Torre struck out two while working his way around a pair of singles.
By his own admission, Alex Hassan is fine and healthy. So why does the outfielder remain on the disabled list, where heâ€™s been for the past three weeks?
At this point, the Red Sox are exercising supreme caution with Hassan. The very idea of him reopening the laceration on his left leg is a chance no one is willing to take, hence why itâ€™s safe to say that the 24-year-old has played in his final game in 2012.
â€śIâ€™ve never been hurt. Itâ€™s just in a location where itâ€™s tough to play because if I slide in the outfield or on the bases, it can reopen,â€ť said Hassan. â€śIf it was on (his right leg), it might have been a different story, but itâ€™s certainly been frustrating and just one of those things thatâ€™s out of my control.
â€śItâ€™s just a matter that it could happen again; itâ€™s not 100 percent closed up yet,â€ť Hassan added. â€śMore or less, itâ€™s been more of a waiting game.â€ť
This marks the first time Hassan has spent significant time on the D.L. since getting drafted by Boston in 2009. The initial injury occurred in late July and initially required up to six stitches. He appeared in seven games in early August, yet it was clear that he was still favoring the tender spot, hitting .120 (3-for-25).
â€śYou can cover and pad it like we did before, but it opened up again,â€ť said PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler about what led to Hassan getting shut down a second time. â€śHeâ€™s probably healed up to play, but if he opened it back up, now weâ€™re back to square one with the greater chance of infection.â€ť
Hassan has progressed to the point where he can hit and field, but thatâ€™s proven to be the extent of the baseball-related activities that he can perform. His first season at the Triple-A level featured plenty of ebbs and flows as he wound up hitting .256 with seven home runs and 46 RBI in 94 games.
â€śItâ€™s a little bittersweet; Iâ€™ve been here all year and would like to play in the playoffs,â€ť said Hassan.