PAWTUCKET – PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler likes to point out that each playoff game has been the equivalent of a box of chocolates – you just never know who’s going to play the role of hero on a given night.
Wednesday saw Pawtucket’s battery of pitcher Zach Stewart and catcher Dan Butler step to the forefront and take their bows. Their induction into the club’s ever-expanding legion of primetime performers was officially cemented after PawSox silenced the Charlotte Knights, 2-0, in Game Two of the Governors’ Cup finals before an audience of 3,525.
By taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, the PawSox can apply the finishing touches and earn the International League crown as soon as Thursday night in Fort Mill, S.C. Pawtucket seeks its first Governors’ Cup title since 1984.
If Pawtucket can win one more contest against Charlotte, it will advance to next to next Tuesday’s Triple-A National Championship, a one-game, winner-take-all affair against the Pacific Coast League champion that would take place in Durham, N.C.
Facing the Triple-A ball club of the organization that he used to pitch for, Stewart was the model of efficiency, tossing six innings of shutout ball. He struck out four while recording eight groundball outs. One of the players the Red Sox received from the White Sox in the Kevin Youkilis trade, Stewart was lifted after throwing 87 pitches. His final inning of work saw him toss just six pitches.
“You definitely tend to focus more when going up against your former organization,” said Stewart. “I know a lot the (Charlotte) guys and they’re good ballplayers. You know their strengths and know how they can burn you. In the back of your mind, you’re saying you don’t want them to get to that point where they can beat me too bad.”
As for Butler, the backstop provided Pawtucket with all the offense the ballclub would need in the second inning, turning on a Charlie Shirek fastball for a solo home run. Showing some wheels, Butler scored from first on Che-Hsuan Lin’s double in the fifth inning to make it a 2-0 game.
“That was pretty cool to see him go from first to home,” said a smiling Stewart.
Pedro Beato and Alex Wilson took care of the seventh and eighth innings as Wilson stranded a runner at second base to end the eighth.
“I felt good and felt like I could have kept going, but Arnie made the decision and you’ve got to respect that,” said Stewart. “We’ve got a lot of good guys out in the bullpen.”
As Bon Jovi’s “This Is Our House” blared over the McCoy Stadium speaker system prior to the top of the ninth inning, the Knights realized that they stood three outs away from turning their home field – Knights Stadium – into a potential coronation site for the PawSox. Instead of fighting back, Charlotte went down quickly against Jose De La Torre, who worked around a two-out error en route to picking up his third save in as many opportunities during these playoffs.
“You don’t want to them sneak back in and get some momentum, and we were able to keep the momentum in our favor,” said Stewart.
In a classy salute to the paying customers that took place afterwards, the PawSox players and coaches came out of the dugout and doffed their caps to show their appreciation of the fans’ support.
The pitching matchup for Game Three will feature Nelson Figueroa for Pawtucket against Charlotte’s Matt Zaleski. Figueroa departed for Charlotte on Wednesday, waiting for the rest of his teammates to join the veteran pitcher this morning.