By BRENDAN McGAIR
MOOSIC, Pa. – Gary DiSarcina won’t forget his first win at Pawtucket’s manager.
On a chilly night that saw a few New York heavyweights in the house - New York owner Hal Steinbrenner and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson took part in the pregame festivities at PNC Field - the PawSox endured a roller coaster of emotions to prevail in 10 innings against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 8-4 verdict was made possible thanks to starting pitcher Steven Wright settling down after a rough first inning, Alex Wilson worming his way out of a tight spot in the ninth and the bats exploding in a major way in the 10th.
A knuckleball pitcher is always going to be unpredictable. From pitch-to-pitch and inning-to-inning, you never know how the pitch will react upon release. In Wright’s case, he was able to piece together three solid innings after allowing two runs on three walks in the first inning.
The butterfly artist and his skipper believed things started to turn in his favor after a visit from Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur during that troubling first. For the rest of his outing, Wright was able to get his knuckler to nestle into the strike zone – he struck out three RailRiders in the third inning.
“Rich talked to him about getting his fingers on top of the ball and concentrating more on getting downhill with the pitch,” noted DiSarcina.
The fact Wright was able to provide the PawSox with four innings after a 31-pitch first inning showed that he was able to recover nicely.
“I struggled a lot in the first inning last year. A lot of it is just the adrenaline and feeling antsy,” said Wright. “Later in the game, I usually find my rhythm.”
After allowing a leadoff double in the ninth inning, Alex Wilson retired the next Scranton batter before DiSarcina called for an intentional walk against Cody Johnson, a lefty. On deck was the right-handed Austin Romine, who Wilson struck out for the frame’s second out. The PawSox relief pitcher ended up stranding both runners, the momentum-turning sequence helping to pave the way for a five-run explosion in the 10th.
“It probably doesn’t matter to Alex, but facing a righty, he’s probably going to feel a little more confident,” said DiSarcina. “(The free pass to Johnson) is playing it by the book, but Alex made pitches when he had to. He was aggressive with his fastball and was huge for us.”
Ryan Lavarnway was in the midst of the game from hell when he came to the plate in the 10th inning. Not only had he struck out four times, but he was also charged with two passed balls.
Able to salvage something, Lavarnway lined a shot down the left-field line to plate a run. While his base knock was for insurance purposes after Jeremy Hazelbaker snapped a 3-all game with a solo home run, the fact that Lavarnway was able to put a halt to the misery did not go unnoticed.
“He was able to release some pressure,” DiSarcina said. “Catching a knuckleballer is tough and if you let it get to you, sometimes you can become too hard on yourself. Ryan knows it’s a long season and he knows we have faith in him.”