Seventh Inning Rally Keys 5th Straight Win for PawSox

The tarp covered the McCoy Stadium field well before the game's starting time, which had to be pushed back due to rain.

The tarp covered the McCoy Stadium field well before the game’s starting time, which had to be pushed back due to rain.

For a grueling fifty minutes, an eager Pawtucket crowd had to watch the rain pour onto the McCoy Stadium field. And for another 6 innings, it saw its beloved home team manufacture just 4 hits. But when the 7th inning came, the PawSox—surprisingly led by the bottom third of the batting order—ferociously erupted for a 5-run effort to seize the lead.

The bottom half of the inning, which brought the animated PawSox faithful to its feet several times, started off on a familiar note for the team. In the 3 innings prior, PawSox players reached base just two times, as the Toledo Mudhens starter Derek Hankins needed just 41 total pitches to plow through those miserable 3 innings.

So when PawSox second baseman Justin Henry softly grounded out to second base on the 4th pitch that came to him, it appeared as though the team was in for another quick and pitiful inning. That notion quickly faded away when catcher Dan Butler, the unquestionable unsung hero of the game, smacked a line drive single into leftfield on the first pitch.

Butler, who was also forced to mitigate the damages from PawSox starter Steven Wright’s erratic pitching, initiated both of the team’s best scoring chances. The first came back in the bottom of the 5th inning, when he was the only player to cleanly record a hit on a single into center field. Any chance of cutting into the 2-run deficit at the time was foiled by groundballs that resulted in forceouts, and a fly-out by Drew Sutton to finish the inning.

Yet this time around, in the 7th inning, the PawSox players following Butler did not let the chance go away. Designated hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker sent another single into leftfield, and with men on 1st and 2nd base, the Toledo manager had to swap out his starter Hankins for relief pitcher Matt Hoffman. But the pitching change had no effect on the determined PawSox hitters: Jackie Bradley Jr. continued the barrage on leftfield, hitting a line drive double (his second) that reached the corner and sent Butler home for the team’s first run.

And if Mudhen leftfielder Mike Cervenak thought he had a good enough workout in the outfield up to this point, he was sorely mistaken—Sutton produced another run with a groundball single into leftfield.

With still only one out in the innings, the game was then amazingly tied on rightfielder Mitch Maier’s huge double into deep right-center field, a ball that looked like it had the distance to clear the outfield, but instead dropped in and reached the wall. Bradley Jr. and Sutton raced around the bases towards home, and with a throw but no true play at the plate, Maier advanced to 3rd base.

The stage was now perfectly set for Will Middlebrooks, who was sent down to Boston’s Triple-A affiliate just a few days ago, to not just provide the go-ahead score, but to potentially break out of his slump in the most sensational of ways. Even though the crowd “had his back” throughout the game and became overly excited each time he stepped to the plate, Middlebrooks had done nothing whatsoever to impress.

The third baseman received his first chance in the bottom of the 1st inning. After viciously fouling off a few pitches, Middlebrooks softly grounded out to the SS after being stuck in a 0-2 count. His body language coming off the poor at-bat was perhaps the greater concern, as he slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down. He ended the inning for the PawSox once again in the 3rd, as he weakly grounded out into a forceout on the first pitch he saw. It was clear he wasn’t fully invested in his new team’s effort, and the unenthusiastic attitude was again very noticeable. For the first time when he stepped to the plate, Middlebrooks saw no teammate/s on base during his at-bat in the 6th inning—unfortunately it resulted in a groundout once more.

But when the struggling third baseman saw his opportunity in the 7th inning, and with the Pawtucket fully enthused and still behind his back, he didn’t let it go to waste. After taking two balls, Middlebrooks smacked a ground ball single right up the middle—just grazing over the 2nd base bag—sending Maier easily home, and sending the energized PawSox crowd into a frenzy.

Mudhens pitcher Brayan Villarreal—who replaced Hoffman before Middlebrooks’ at-bat—retired the next two batter on 5 pitches. But the damage was done, and perhaps the beginning for Middlebrook’s resurgence had also been accomplished.

After producing 8 hits and 5 walks—resulting in 4 runs—prior to Pawtucket’s offensive explosion, the visiting Mudhens could only manage to put on 3 more baserunners for the remaining two innings. PawSox starter Steven Wright was perhaps the biggest reason for Toledo’s offensive efficiency through the first 7 innings. As the game progressed, Wright got more and more out of control, eventually yielding a total of 5 walks, 5 hits, 2 ERs, and plenty of passed balls and wild pitches. His erratic play truly hurt him in the 4th inning, when he started that frame with 7 straight balls thrown. After 18 of his 26 pitches thrown were balls, Wright and the PawSox emerged from the ugly inning with a 2-run deficit.

The Mudhens added to their total later on in the top half of the 7th inning, as 3 straight singles followed by a sacrifice fly—off PawSox reliever Brock Huntzinger—gave Toledo a 4-run lead.

In that same inning, though, the PawSox fiercely fought back with a 5-run effort, and eventually sustained that lead.

The classic comeback victory constitutes Pawtucket’s 5th straight, and their 10th win in the past 11 contests. The PawSox now own the second best winning percentage in the International League, and sit in 1st place and 8.5 games clear of their next competitor in the North division.