By Andy Lindberg
A mid-summer road trip was in order, so I marched down to Allentown, PA and to see the jewel of Minor League Baseball: Coca-Cola Park. It didn’t hurt that the International League’s Northern Division leaders in Lehigh Valley were facing off against second-place Pawtucket in the midst of a four game set.
On Thursday, Scott Atchison pitched a scoreless seventh inning to pick up his fifth win for Pawtucket and Lars Anderson went 2-3 and scored the winning run in the eighth, besting the division-leading IronPigs 2-1. Brandon Moss hit his 19th homer of the year for Lehigh Valley’s lone run during a fantastic game of baseball.
The IronPigs had taken the first two games of the series, the second of which came behind the arm of a rehabbing Roy Oswalt, a member of the famed “Philly Phoursome” featuring Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. On Thursday, Scott Mathieson took the hill for the IronPigs, where he is being stretched out to return to his role as a starting pitcher. The Pawtucket Red Sox countered with right-hander Matt Fox, who had struggled mightily of late, giving up 22 runs in his four previous starts.
Mathieson struggled early with his command, especially of his fastball, which flew at a blistering 96 MPH on the radar gun, walking two in the first two innings and allowing the leadoff walk to score on a Chen-Hsuan Lin single up the middle in the second inning. Nursing a 1-0 lead, Pawtucket starter Fox went into the seventh inning having only allowed one hit. However former Red Sox outfielder Brandon Moss tattooed the first pitch he saw from Fox and launched it over the center field wall to knot the game at one apiece. After walking Delwyn Young and with nobody out, Fox was replaced by Atchison, who got out of the inning without any further damage.
Lehigh Valley’s Mathieson was finished after six and gave way to recent acquisition Aaron Heilman.
“Mathieson did a nice job battling out there,” said IronPigs manager Ryne Sandberg. “It was good to see him make adjustments. It wasn’t his best command yet, but he had a couple of one-pitch outs.”
Mathieson began to struggle with his control in the later innings but transitioned from his fastball to a sharp breaking ball, in which he displayed incredible confidence.
“His mentality is a power pitcher,” said Sandberg. “He rears back nearly every pitch. Guys don’t put contact on a lot of balls [against Mathieson].”
With Justin De Fratus on the hill for Lehigh Valley in the eighth, Lars Anderson ripped a double to the gap in right-center field. After walking Pawtucket third baseman Hector Luna, De Fratus induced a crucial 4-6-3 double play from second-baseman Nate Spears. However the leadoff double proved to be costly, as Anderson, residing at third after the double play, sprinted home to score on a wild pitch by De Fratus.
Former Boston All-Star Hideki Okajima pitched a perfect eighth inning for Pawtucket, striking out two, and Michael Bowden came in to notch his 13th save of the year, but not after a scare to end the game. With IronPigs designated hitter Delwyn Young on first base after singling to begin the inning, IronPigs first baseman Tagg Bozied came up to bat with two outs in the inning. Bozied cranked a 0-2 Bowden offering deep to left-center, but Lin got back to the warning track in time to haul it in for the final out.
“He put a good swing on it,” said De Fratus, who took the loss to fall to 2-1. “I thought it had a chance. I would have liked to have seen it go out.”
[Bozied] had a good approach to try to win us the game,” said Sandberg. “He had the right idea to try to give us a chance, and I told him that after the at-bat.”
However the IronPigs did not leave disheartened, as they have won five of their last six games. On Friday the 62-44 IronPigs will try to win the series over 59-47 Pawtucket in the fourth and final game heading into a two-game series with Buffalo.
Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco also had an eventful day even though the box score may not reflect it. On the disabled list since July 5 with lower back inflammation, Polanco was finally able to play without significant pain.
“The last time I felt pain was about one and a half months ago,” said Polanco. “I feel happy. I feel like I can do this.”
Polanco grounded out twice to second base followed by walking in the sixth inning and was promptly lifted for a pinch hitter.
“I haven’t played in 20 some days, they don’t want to push it too much.”
When asked about hitting, Polanco was prompt. “I made contact,” said Polanco. “I was a little bit off. My timing was OK. I felt fine.”
Polanco is due to play a full nine-inning game for the IronPigs on Friday. If all goes well Polanco should be back in Philadelphia by Saturday.