Saturday, September 1, 2012
PawSox clinch IL wild-card berth
By Joe McDonald
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- At least the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox has something to celebrate.
The Pawtucket Red Sox defeated the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees 2-0 Saturday night at McCoy Stadium to clinch the 2012 International League wild card.
The PawSox have two more regular-season games, Sunday and Monday, before the best-of-five first-round playoff series begins against the Yankees on Wednesday and Thursday at McCoy. Both games are at 7:05 p.m.
Like their parent club, the PawSox have faced a ton of changes to their lineup all season, but Pawtucket has been able to win.
Throughout the season, especially of late, the PawSox lost key players after they were called up to Boston, including first baseman Mauro Gomez (2012 IL MVP), shortstop Jose Iglesias, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, outfielder Daniel Nava, outfielder Ryan Kalish and pitchers Clayton Mortensen, Mark Melancon and Junichi Tazawa. Even former first baseman Lars Anderson was traded to the Cleveland Indians organization.
With all that movement, the Red Sox organization promoted players from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket, including catcher Dan Butler and reliever Josh Fields, among others.
"For us down here in the minor leagues, it's all about being consistent and these guys showing up and working hard every day," said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. "If you work hard, do your work, play hard and play the game right, we're going to win some games. This stuff is a bonus."
The PawSox return to the postseason for the second consecutive season, and Beyeler becomes the first Pawtucket manager since Ed Nottle (1986 and 1987) to earn back-to-back playoff appearances.
Pawtucket received a strong performance by starter Nelson Figueroa, who worked eight scoreless innings and allowed only four hits with one walk and six strikeouts. Butler provided the offense with a pair of solo home runs, and Fields picked up his fourth save.
"Our guys stepped up," Beyeler said. "Figgy, what can you say about him? I'm glad we got the opportunity to get him. He's pitched very well over here and he's an experienced guy. On a night when we needed some innings to start with, forget about wins and losses, he goes deep into the game and throws zeros up on top of that. You can't say enough about him."
Figueroa, 38, signed with the Red Sox as a free agent on July 24 after he was released by the New York Yankees. Prior to his arrival here, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and posted a 7-2 record with a 3.96 ERA.
With the PawSox, the right-hander has been solid. Saturday was his eighth appearance (sixth start), and he's 5-3 with Pawtucket.
"It was a huge outing for us to get this over with and now we can focus on the playoffs," Figueroa said. "These guys have worked their butts off all year long and I got to watch them from the other side, and with everything they did and the team that they had early on, to get here and to be a part of it, and then to see so many pieces change, it kind of got us a little worried. The guys who have come up from Portland have played a major role. We've taken every opportunity to show what we can do."
Butler had a front-row seat for Figueroa's performance.
"The guy was unbelievable," Butler said. "He just paints. It's unbelievable how good his stuff is. He can throw anything at anytime, anywhere."
With the way Figueroa was pitching, the two home runs by Butler gave the PawSox the offense they needed en route to victory. He hit his first homer in the bottom of the sixth inning and added his second in the seventh.
Butler was promoted to Pawtucket on Aug. 3 after spending the majority of the season with the Sea Dogs.
"He's a young guy who's getting an opportunity to play up here and he's earned his way up here," Beyeler said. "He can swing the bat a little bit and he's catching. He did a great job out in the Fall League for us and kind of put himself on the map with some people. He's done a good job. He's getting a chance to play. He's always been a guy who has had to grind it out and play, so that's nothing new to him. He has to earn everything he gets and he's a good guy to throw out there. He does a good job."
After Pawtucket's dramatic win Saturday, the players were celebrating with libations in the clubhouse. Butler and Figueroa were doused with beer and shaving cream for their performances.
"Hopefully you get to do this a lot more than just once," Butler said. "A lot of people in their career don't get to do this too often. This is just fun."
As the veteran Figueroa put it, the players on this team have done a lot of "ego swallowing" with so many of their former PawSox teammates getting called to the big leagues.
"You realize how much it took to get here, so we're very appreciative of it," he said. "This will not be the only taste of champagne we have."