PAWTUCKET – For a team that has been almost flawless this season, the Columbus Clippers were anything but on Wednesday night.
The Clippers, the top team record-wise in the International League, committed three costly errors that resulted in four unearned runs. Such gift-wrapping tendencies proved to be difference as the Pawtucket Red Sox remain in first place in the I.L. North for another day after posting a 5-2 win before 7,010 at McCoy Stadium.
Pawtucket stands a game up on second-place Lehigh Valley, which defeated Rochester, 3-1.
A dropped fly ball by Columbus centerfielder Tim Fedroff helped Pawtucket score two runs in the bottom of the first behind back-to-back RBI singles by Hector Luna and Daniel Nava. The Clippers continued to play kick the can in the third when third baseman Jared Goedert bobbled what appeared to be a double play chance off the bat of Ryan Lavarnway. Two batters later Nava doubled in a run to make it 3-1 Pawtucket, but thanks to an errant throw by rightfielder Shelley Duncan, Hector Luna scooted home to make it a 4-1 game.
The PawSox treated this game like a do-or-die playoff game as manager Arnie Beyeler yanked starter Tony Pena Jr. after he loaded the bases in the fourth behind two walks and a single. Fortunately the PawSox bullpen was more than up to the task as Junichi Tazawa, Randy Williams and Michael Bowden combined to toss 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.
Bowden finished the game with a flourish, recording a swinging strikeout for his team-best 15th save.
Che-Hsuan Lin turned in the web gem of the night when he one-hopped a throw from just shy of the warning track in dead center to nab Cord Phelps at third. Nate Spears also deserves credit for making a strong scoop on the play, which resulted in a double play for the PawSox after Phelps attempted to tag up.
Alex Wilson always held out hope that he would make the jump from Double A to Triple A by season’s end. When word came earlier in the week that his strong season with Portland had translated into a promotion to Pawtucket, the 24-year-old pitcher had to make sure the calendar still read 2011.
There may be less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, but in Wilson’s eyes he was able to meet one of his preseason objectives. A strong season – 9-4 with the Sea Dogs with a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts – has yielded a timely summons as he goes from a club languishing at the bottom of the Eastern League standings to one that is in the middle of a playoff pursuit.
“I was hoping [the call to Pawtucket] would happen, but once it started getting later and later, in my mind I was thinking ‘Well, maybe I’ll start there next year,’” Wilson said one day prior to making his PawSox debut, which takes place Thursday night. “To get the call late in the year and with these guys being in a race, it’s definitely going to be exciting to be a part of.”
There’s little doubt Wilson earned his way onto Pawtucket’s roster. He had spent enough time in Northern New England – he made 38 starts for Portland over the past two seasons – and had put up good enough numbers that he was due for a change in scenery.
“I don’t think I could have pitched much better than I did this year,” noted Wilson, who spent time last month on the disabled list with an infection in his left (non-pitching) elbow.
“He’s always had the stuff; it’s just a matter of him getting ahead in the count so he can get to his secondary stuff,” said Beyeler, who managed Wilson in Portland last season.
For Junichi Tazawa, so far, so good.
The Japanese pitcher recorded his third scoreless outing for the PawSox Wednesday night, this one spanning 3 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and one walk. He was tested right away, coming in with the bases loaded and one down in the fourth inning. Tazawa allowed an inherited runner to score on a groundout but minimized the damage with another groundball out to get out of the frame.
The lone hit Tazawa allowed was a leadoff double by Cord Phelps in the seventh. Tazawa struck out the next two Columbus batters – both swinging, both on fastballs – before being replaced by Randy Williams.
According to Beyeler, the plan is tread ever so cautiously with Tazawa, who is 17 months removed from Tommy John surgery. By having him pitching exclusively in relief and once every three days or so, the hope is that Tazawa can assume a greater workload next season.
“His command has been real good and his slider has been better then when I saw it two years ago; it’s a better pitch,” noted Beyeler. “He didn’t throw the split-finger [fastball] a lot in Portland because it seemed like every time he pitched, it rained. He doesn’t like to throw it if he can’t feel it. He’s throwing it now and it’s been an effective pitch for him.”
EXTRA BASES: Outfielder Ryan Kalish was given the night off. … Drew Sutton is still sporting a splint on his right finger and will continue to do so for the next week or so. Sutton has been on the disabled list since Aug. 5. … Columbus first baseman Beau Mills is the son of former Red Sox bench coach and current Houston Astros manager Brad Mills.
Columbus 100 100 000 – 2-9-3
Pawtucket 203 000 00x – 5-6-3
Jeanmar Gomez, Matt Langwell (8) and Luke Carlin. Tony Pena Jr., Junichi Tazawa (4), Randy Williams (7), Michael Bowden (9) and Luis Exposito. 2B: Cord Phelps 2; Che-Hsuan Lin, Daniel Nava.
WP: Tazawa (1-0). LP: Gomez (10-6). Save: Bowden (15). Time: 3:10. Attendance: 7,010.