PAWTUCKET — The Pawtucket Red Sox are in a pennant race.
Just don’t mention it to PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler.
“I get excited about all of our wins,” Beyeler said Wednesday after his PawSox moved to within one game of International League North division leader Lehigh Valley with a 2-1 walkoff victory, their third win in as many games with the IronPigs this week.
Pawtucket can move into a tie for first place with a win over Lehigh Valley in tonight’s series finale.
“Talk to me on August 31,” Beyeler said, deflecting attention away from the pennant race. “We’ve definitely had some big wins this season but we have 40 or 50 games left in the season.”
Wednesday’s victory came on a bloop single to right field by Che-Hsuan Lin with two outs in the bottom of the ninth that plated Nate Spears with the winning run. Led by first baseman Lars Anderson, the PawSox players chased Lin down in the middle of the infield to celebrate the victory before a packed house of 10,659 fans.
The game featured two starting pitchers with big league experience. Lehigh Valley’s Nate Bump, a former first-round pick of the Giants in 1998, squared off with 14-year big league veteran Kevin Millwood. Bump allowed one run in six innings. Millwood went seven innings with the same yield.
“I could have gone out for the eighth,” said Millwood, who remains 5-0 in 10 starts with Pawtucket. “But that’s their decision,” he said, speaking of Beyeler and pitching coach Rich Sauveur, who turned to reliever Jeremy Kehrt on a sunny day when temperatures reached into the upper 80s.
“I’ve pitched in hotter weather than this in a lot of places,” Millwood said after the game.
Pawtucket wasted a scoring opportunity in the first inning. Lin led off with a grounder to second base that went right under Josh Barfield’s glove for an error. Daniel Nava doubled to left-center and Lin tried to score from first base with nobody out, and paid for it when center fielder Rich Thompson made a strong relay to shortstop Brian Bocock, who gunned Lin down at the plate.
Lehigh pushed across its only run in the second inning. With one out, Barfield and Cody Overbeck singled. Bocock plated Barfield with a two-out squeeze bunt.
Pawtucket scored its first run in strange fashion. Catcher Luis Exposito legged out a double to left-center to lead off the third inning, testing Thompson’s arm and barely getting to the bag in time. Ron Bermudez then flew out to left fielder Brandon Moss, who caught the ball and then tried to throw it back to the infield, only to lose his grip on the ball, which bounded 15 feet behind Moss. Exposito alertly lumbered over to third, from where he scored on Lin’s sacrifice fly.
Moss, the former Boston prospect who played in Pawtucket during the 2007-08 seasons, had a bad day, striking out in his first two trips, and finishing 0-for-4 at the plate.
Lin made a game-changing throw in the top of the ninth after Bocock and Thompson singled, putting two runners on with one man out. Kevin Frandsen, another former PawSox player, flew out to center. Lin’s strong throw to third baseman Hector Luna froze Thompson, who was retired on a relay from Luna to second baseman Drew Sutton.
“That was good fundamental baseball,” Beyeler said. “Lin kept his throw low and Hector was able to cut it off. Lin is learning every day. He airmailed a throw earlier in the game. His next throw was low, just the way you want it.”
The PawSox then won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Luna struck out against 6-foot-8 reliever Michael Schwimer, one of several hard throwers in Lehigh Valley’s bullpen. Nate Spears coaxed a walk and then Exposito grounded a single between third and short. Bermudez struck out on a 3-2 pitch, setting the stage for Lin’s game-winning hit.
“That was a huge at-bat,” Beyeler said. “I thought Ronnie had a great at-bat, too. They can bring some strong arms out of their bullpen. They brought in a kid last night who was throwing 97 (miles per hour). When you put the ball in play, good things can happen.”
Pawtucket will send Tony Pena Jr. (7-4, 3.43) against Ironpigs lefty Ryan Feierabend (9-5, 5.46) tonight. With a victory, the PawSox would head on the road tied for first place. Just don’t tell Arnie Beyeler.
“We’ve pitched well,” the manager said, speaking to one of his team’s strengths. “We’ve got four starters who have been around for a while. If you look at our offensive numbers, they’re not too impressive, but our pitching is right up there at the top.”
Actually, Pawtucket is tied for second in runs scored, thanks in large part of Ryan Lavarnway’s torrid hitting since arriving from Portland last month. The pitching staff ranks second in earned run average behind the Gwinnett Braves. Combine those two stats with a team that is playing good fundamental baseball and you see why Pawtucket has come on strong of late, winning 12 of its last 16 games.
EXTRA BASES: Lavarnway endured a rare hitless game, going 0-for-4 and dropping to .376 with Pawtucket. He did hit the ball hard his first two times up … “They’re definitely making him work,” Beyeler said. “They threw him a 3-2 pitch in the dirt (that he struck out on in the eighth). Pitchers are making adjustments. Ryan has to make adjustments of his own.” … Kehrt tossed two scoreless innings to pick up his first win for Pawtucket … PawSox shortstop Jose Iglesias may return tonight if league doctors approve the concussion medical report submitted by the PawSox. “It’s a new procedure we go through for head injuries,” Beyeler said. “We hope to get Jose back on Thursday.” … Lefty reliever Tommy Hottovy, dropped from Boston’s 40-man roster 10 days ago, could rejoin the PawSox soon.