PAWTUCKET – It had all the pageantry of Opening Day, from the introduction to the teams to the unfurling of an American flag in center field and a cannon salute that sounded off at the conclusion of the national anthem.
There was also a moving remembrance of Ben Mondor. Following a video tribute that paid homage to the late PawSox owner, president Mike Tamburro and general manager Lou Schwechheimer walked over to the box where Mondor would watch every single pitch. Armed with bouquets of roses, Tamburro and Schwechheimer presented them to Madeleine Mondor, Ben’s widow. A single rose was then drawn with a PawSox batboy hurrying it to home plate, where it was placed.
The PawSox added to the festivities with a 2-1 win over Rochester that featured strong pitching and timely hitting. Filling in for starter Alfredo Aceves, Scott Atchison allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings. Outfielder J.C. Linares supplied all the offense the PawSox would need on opening night with a two-run triple that erased a 1-0 deficit in the sixth inning.
“For someone to give us that many innings on short notice, he was very efficient,” said PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler about Atchison. “We had a pitch count in mind to see what we could get. He was being so efficient that we kept going with him.”
Finding out that he would be starting on limited notice didn’t appear to phase Atchison, who made a spot start for Boston last year, doing so on the same day that Daniel Nava belted the first-ever big league pitch he saw for a grand slam. The 35-year-old surrendered a double to the Red Wings’ Ben Revere on the second pitch of the game, then came back to strike out the next three batters. At one point Atchison retired eight straight before Brian Dinkelman reached on an Atchison wild pitch after striking out with two down in the fourth.
Atchison (eight strikeouts, zero walks) retired the first two Rochester batters he faced in the fifth before tiring. A single by Chase Lambin was followed by a run-scoring double by Rene Rivera. Figuring that he got the most he possibly could out of Atchison, Beyeler went out and collected the ball from the pitcher who saved the pitching staff on the first game of the 144-game slate.
“I was definitely running out of gas since that was the longest I’ve gone in a while,” said Atchison, who threw 68 pitches, 49 for strikes.
Rochester starter Anthony Swarzak was just as effective as Atchison, permitting zero runs while striking out seven in 4 2/3 frames. The only PawSox hitter to solve Swarzak was shortstop Jose Iglesias, who collected two line drive singles.
Rich Hill followed Atchison, the lefty doing his part in keeping Pawtucket’s deficit at a lone run. In the sixth the PawSox started to piece things together, starting with a one-out walk to Nava. Lars Anderson followed with a soft single to left. One batter later Linares belted a 2-2 offering from reliever Yorman Bazardo to right-center. What ensued was a two-run triple and Pawtucket’s first lead of the game.
The rest was left up to Pawtucket’s bullpen. Hill blanked the Red Wings over 2 1/3 innings, allowing three hits while fanning four. He gave way to fellow lefty Hideki Okajima, who struck out one in what amounted to a 13-pitch eight-inning. Michael Bowden slammed the door with a 1-2-3 ninth for the second save of his pro career.
“(After Atchison held the fort) you’re just trying to get through the game,” said Beyeler. “You don’t want to burn through a bunch of guys because you’ve got to think about tomorrow.”
EXTRA BASES: Beyeler opted to hold outfielder Josh Reddick out the lineup after he was slowed by strep throat earlier in the week. Reddick did participate in batting practice. “He’s fine, but from a safety standpoint I didn’t want him to come out and pull something after not being on the field for five days,” said Beyeler. … The 13 strikeouts the PawSox recorded are the most since May 5, 2009. … This quick two-game homestand wraps up tonight with PawSox newcomer Kyle Weiland facing Rochester’s Eric Hacker. Weiland pitched last year for Double-A Portland, going 5-9 with a 4.42 ERA in 25 starts.
Rochester 000 010 000 – 1-6-0
Pawtucket 000 002 00x – 2-6-0
Anthony Swarzak, Yorman Bazardo (5, L 0-1), Chuck James (7), Alex Burnett (8) and Rene Rivera. Scott Atchison, Rich Hill (5, W, 1-0), Hideki Okajima (8), Michael Bowden (9, S, 1) and Luis Exposito. 2B: Ben Revere, Rene Rivera; Daniel Nava. 3B: J.C. Linares.