PAWTUCKET -- Freshly activated off the disabled list, Mitch Maier made a thrilling debut at McCoy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Maier, a 30-year-old center fielder who suffered a left wrist sprain back on March 17, spent the last few weeks in extended spring training, and he admitted being anxious about returning to the diamond.
Maier didn’t get to the Pawtucket Red Sox’s home until about 4 p.m., Saturday. Just about 24 hours later, he drilled a three-run homer – curled by the wind around the right-field foul pole, 325 feet away – to give his new club a 5-2, 11-inning walk-off victory over Rochester.
The bash came on southpaw Anthony Slama’s 2-0 fastball, with Jose Iglesias stationed at third (after a walk, Ryan Lavarnway’s groundout and a stolen bag) and Bryce Brentz at first.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew the outfielder wasn’t going to catch it,” Maier grinned long after his teammates mobbed him at the plate. “I thought if it stayed fair, it might be a double and we’d win the game. When I saw it go past the foul pole, I was amazed.
“This is awesome!” he added. “I thought I got hit in the leg by a water bucket, and once I got (inside the tunnel to the clubhouse), I got a pie in the face.”
When asked who the culprit had been, he laughed, “Mr. Lavarnway, but don’t worry. His time will come. After all, it’s a long season.”
With the win, the Sox not only swept the Red Wings in their four-game set, but improved to a franchise-best 9-1 start to a campaign.
Skipper Gary DiSarcina seemed to be as excited about the walkoff as Maier, who last season split time between the Kansas City Royals and Triple-A Omaha, but signed with Boston as a free agent last Halloween.
“It’s great to have him up here,” he stated. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed player. He had a couple of rough at-bats with a strikeout and grounder to second, but he kept at it.
“It was unfortunate that he got hurt, but he came up with that big home run and he made a great catch in center field,” he continued. “Actually, I really didn’t see (the home run). I asked some of the guys what happened. I knew he smacked it, and it looked pretty good. With that wind, I was just hoping it would stay low.”
Maier played in 16 games during spring training before the injury, but he hit .346 (nine for 26) with a double, three RBI and five runs scored.
“I played in some extended games, but I didn’t want to rush it,” he noted. “I wanted to take it slow so when I did get back, I could play right away and contribute. My first couple of at-bats weren’t too good. I was just looking to make solid contact, and I guess I did.”
The 11th-inning game-winner was made possible by a stellar relief effort from Jose De La Torre and Ryan Rowland-Smith. The former hurled three frames, allowing no hits, three walks while striking out a pair; the latter earned his first win of the season, also pitching three hitless innings with two whiffs.
The Pawtucket offense looked rather anemic through the first six, and they trailed Rochester, 2-0. That changed in the seventh. Maier led off with a walk, and Brandon Snyder’s double down the left-field line off of righty reliever Daniel Turpen pushed him to third.
Drew Sutton, batting eighth, immediately plated both with a single to center, and that knotted it at 2-2.
As it had in both ends of Saturday’s twinbill, Rochester scored in the top of the first, though left-fielder Clete Thomas needed just three pitches from righty starter Jeremy Kehrt to pound a home run onto the right-field patio.
Chris Colabello later roped a one-out hit to left, but PawSox’ first baseman Brandon Snyder snagged designated hitter Jeff Clement’s liner and stepped on the bag for the unassisted double play.
The Sox responded in the bottom half, when leadoff batter Brock Holt reached on third baseman Mark Sobolewski’s bobble, and hustled to second on Mark Hamilton’s hit to right. Lavarnway then blooped a single to left to load the bags, though Albers forced Brentz to ground into a 5-4-3 twin killing to end the threat.
Kehrt had retired eight of the next nine Red Wings, but got himself into a jam in the fourth.
Colabello opened the frame with a double down the left-field line, and he took third on Clement’s groundout to second. Kehrt immediately whiffed Brandon Boggs for the second out, but Joe Benson knocked a slow roller at third baseman Drew Sutton; he threw low to first, and Colabello scored on the miscue to make it 2-0.
DiSarcina pulled Kehrt, who lasted 3 2/3 innings (four hits, no walks, one earned run, two strikeouts, 66 tosses, 40 strikes), for fellow righthander Pedro Beato, who got Ray Olmedo to fly to third for the final out.
In the interim, Albers sailed along. After that Brentz double play, he retired 12 straight, but yielded Snyder a bloop hit to center with one down in the fifth. Hazelbaker then knocked a two-out ground single to right, but home plate umpire Jeff Gosney called Holt out on an 82-mph heater.
Holt argued the call, and Gosney took mere seconds to toss him from the game. (Jonathan Diaz replaced him at second).
It looked like the Red Wings would extend its lead in the sixth when Doug Bernier poked a one-out single and Beato sandwiched a strikeout between a pair of walks to Thomas and Colabello, the latter juicing the bags.
The reliever, however, got Clement to fly harmlessly to short.
Pawtucket seemed ready to break out of its offensive funk in the bottom of the frame after leadoff batter Jose Iglesias, facing Turpen, reached on an infield hit and Hamilton walked.
Lavarnway, though, grounded into a tailor-made 6-4-3 twin killing, and – with Iglesias at third – Brentz grounded to short.
Rochester 100 100 000 00 -- 2 – 5 – 1
Pawtucket 000 000 200 03 -- 5 – 8 – 1
Anthony Albers, Daniel Turpen (6), Luis Perdomo (7), Tyler Robertson (10), Anthony Slama (11) and Chris Herrmann. Jeremy Kehrt, Pedro Beato (4), Jose De La Torre (6), Ryan Rowland-Smith (9) and Ryan Lavarnway. WP – Rowland-Smith (1-0). LP – Slama (0-3). BS – Turpen (1). 2B – Colabello (2), Snyder (4). HR – Thomas (2), Maier (1). E – Sobolewski (1), Sutton (1). DP – Rochester 3, Pawtucket 2. LOB – Rochester 7, Pawtucket 5.
T – 3:14. A – 4,301.