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PawSox' offense once again MIA as Bulls clinch Governors' Cup

September 14, 2013

PawSox shortstop Heiker Meneses, holding ball, and second baseman Tony Thomas, right, saw their Governors’ Cup playoff run come to an end Saturday night at McCoy Stadium. The PawSox managed just two hits in a 7-0 loss to Durham, a defeat that enabled the Bulls to clinch the 2013 International League title. Pawtucket went the last 29 innings of the series without scoring a run. PHOTO BY LOURIANN MARDO-ZAYAT

PAWTUCKET – After suffering a disgruntling 2-0, 14-inning loss to Durham in Game No. 3 of this Governors’ Cup best-of-five championship final – the two runs both unearned due to a three-base error, throwing miscue and two grounders – the Pawtucket Red Sox hoped to put the ugly, immediate past behind them and look ahead.

They wanted desperately to post a Game 4 win on Saturday night and force a deciding contest today, the lone desire the chance to claim the franchise’s second straight Cup title and fourth in club history.

Starter Merrill Kelly denied that wish, and in spectacular fashion.

In six innings of work, the 25-year-old righty from Scottsdale, Ariz. hurled a superb two-hitter and whiffed seven in the Bulls’ 7-0 trouncing of the PawSox before 5,833 fans at McCoy Stadium.

Kelly (9-4) did hit a batter and toss a wild pitch, but with the masterpiece (97 pitches, 61 strikes) left Durham a 3-1 series victor and with its first Cup crown since 2009. The Bulls had accepted the trophy as International League champs in this same ballyard in 2003, that after a 3-0 sweep of the Sox.

They did so again Saturday night, much to Pawtucket skipper Gary DiSarcina’s chagrin.

“They just deserved it,” he shrugged after accepting a hug and a few words from PawSox President Mike Tamburro in the clubhouse. “They dominated us; they shut us down. What can you say? We didn’t score many runs in this series (three total).

“We didn’t swing the bats well the past couple of weeks,” he added. “We may have won some games 2-1, 3-1, but we couldn’t get the bats going (in the finals). In a three-out-of-five, you’ve got to string together some hits. You know you’re going to face good pitching. Good pitching will shut you down, and that’s what happened here.”

DiSarcina also addressed how losing key players to the parent club – among them Xandxer Bogaerts, Brandon Snyder, Ryan Lavarnway, Allen Webster, etc. – at the Sept. 1 call-up affected this club.

“We watched the Red Sox win (Saturday afternoon in their 5-1 decision over the Yankees), and – no matter what the names are – you see them contribute to a 90-plus-win team, and that’s what it’s all about,” he noted. “The fun part for me watching them get there, watching guys play and relax and work their way up.

“I’ve got to say Durham’s a great team, and they deserve it.”

Offered a champagne-soaked manager Charlie Montoya afterward as to Kelly’s magnificent performance: “He’s been awesome; he’s a key to our success. When we had some of our guys called up, Merrill and Matt Buschman really stepped it up. They came in and took over our third and fourth spots in the rotation and were lights out.

“The reason we won the championship? It’s all pitching. It gave us a chance the last month and a half. This feels awesome! It’s not that easy to get here. I have to thank all of our guys.”

Righty knuckleballer Charlie Haeger (4-5) took the loss.

Providence resident and southpaw Jeff Beliveau, Steve Geltz and Adam Liberatore combined to throw a no-hitter without a walk and four strikeouts over the final three innings for the winners.

The PawSox had been hitting just .146 (15-for-103) in its previous three Cup tilts, and just never improved upon that in the clincher. As for the visitors, their collective batting average had been .191 (21-for-110), but they recorded seven in the first three innings alone and a dozen in all.

Offensively for Durham, Kevin Kiermaier went 2-for-5 with a homer, three RBI and two runs scored, while Mike Fontenot finished 2-for-5 with a triple, RBI and two runs and designated hitter Shelley Duncan 1-for-3 with a two-bagger, a walk, an RBI and a run.

Unlike Friday night’s marathon, the Bulls needed little time to jump out to a lead.

Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger took just four pitches to earn two quick outs, but then he walked Tim Beckham, and Vince Belnome’s opposite-field single to left pushed him to second.

Jason Bourgeois then ripped a hit to center, and Beckham scored with ease.

In the second, Haeger fanned leadoff batter Duncan, but allowed Fontenot a single to center. After another called third strike to No. 9 batter Craig Albernaz, however, Haeger allowed Kiermaier to wallop a knuckler into the right-field stands for the two-run blast that made it 3-0.

It marked not only Kiermaier’s first-ever Triple-A homer, but also the only one to be clubbed in this series thus far.

Durham, which in its previous three finals’ tilts had been only 2-for-30 with runners in scoring position, delivered another run in the third; Haeger walked Belnome to start the frame, but Bourgeois grounded into a twin killing initiated by shortstop Heiker Meneses. Brandon Guyer, though, drilled a triple to the right-center gap, and strolled home on Duncan’s two-bagger down the left-field line.

That’s when DiSarcina walked to the mound and pulled Haeger, who in his 2 2/3-inning stint allowed seven hits, four runs (all earned) and two walks while whiffing a pair. He finished with 55 deliveries, 32 of them strikes. Righty reliever Brock Huntzinger replaced him.

Huntzinger needed just one pitch to force Fontenot to ground to second for the final out.

In the interim, Kelly calmly retired 10 straight, including three by strikeout, before Jonathan Diaz slapped a ground single to left with one down in the fourth. That ended his no-hit bid, but he nevertheless got Alex Hassan to line out to center, and Mark Hamilton to fly to right to end it.

In the top of the fifth, Huntzinger did issue a walk to Beckham, who tried to rob second. Backstop Dan Butler fired to shortstop Meneses, who made a remarkable behind-the-back tag to get him.

Huntzinger got Belnome to ground to second, then fanned Bourgeois.

Pawtucket threatened in the back half of the fifth after Kelly walked Butler, then threw a wild pitch to give him second. The 25-year-old righty proceeded to strike out the side.

Durham cushioned its lead in the sixth, exploding for three runs to seemingly put the game out of reach. With one down, Huntzinger walked Duncan, and Fontenot roped a triple to center, just past Shannon Wilkerson, to plate him.

DiSarcina gave Huntzinger the hook, and fellow righthander Terry Doyle got Albernaz to ground to second for the second out, but Kiermaier’s ground single between short and third scored Fontenot.

Kiermaier raced to third on a wild pitch and hustled in on Figueroa’s lined hit to left, giving the Bulls a 7-0 advantage.

Huntzinger, like his predecessor, also lasted 2 2/3, yielding one hit, two runs (both earned) and two walks with two whiffs. Doyle did the same in 2 2/3, but didn’t yield a run. He ended with three hits and a strikeout with a wild offering.

Diaz mustered a single to left off of Kelly in the sixth, but Alex Hassan grounded to the hill to shut down that frame.

Once it was over, while the Bulls celebrated with final reliever Adam Liberatore, diehard Pawtucket fans still in the stands gave their guys a warm gesture of thanks for taking their city to the brink of another Cup crown.

***

EXTRA BASES: The third game of this series, Durham’s 2-0, 14-inning victory on Friday night, set all kinds of records. It happened to be the longest playoff tilt in PawSox’ franchise history in terms of both innings and time (five hours, 42 minutes).

Actually, the time element ranked it as the third lengthiest in Pawtucket history behind professional baseball’s marathon 33-frame game in 1981 against Rochester (a 3-2 Sox win taking eight hours, 25 minutes) and a 27-inning tilt against Syracuse in 1985 (a 3-1 victory lasting 7:07).

As for Governors’ Cup lore, the Bulls’ win Friday was the second longest ever; the only one that took more time came on Sept. 20, 1957, when Miami defeated Buffalo, 3-2, in 18 frames. Likewise, the marathon was the fourth finals’ game ever to move to extra innings in a scoreless tie, and also the longest (into the 14th) in which neither squad scored a run in any finals’ contest.

Durham snatched the win Friday with two unearned runs in the top of the 14th, then held the PawSox with the bases filled in the last half. Reliever Chris Carpenter took the loss, just two days after knuckleballer Steve Wright accepted a 2-1 defeat in Durham.

That loss came after the Bulls notched two unearned runs; the Sox, who had the best fielding percentage in the I.L. during the regular season, had made four miscues in this set alone prior to Game No. 4.

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