For the first time since 2008, the Pawtucket Red Sox have earned an International League playoff berth and for the first time since 2003, the PawSox reign as champions of the North Division.
The PawSox came from behind to beat the Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees 12-7 and clinch the third of four spots in the upcoming postseason. All that has to be decided is the Wild Card winner, which happens to be the first round opponent for the PawSox. Columbus, the West winner, will face Durham, the South Champ in the first round. The PawSox will battle either Lehigh Valley or Gwinnett. With 2 days left in the regular season, the Iron Pigs lead the Braves by one game in the chase. The PawSox will open the playoffs in Allentown, Pa. or Lawrenceville, Ga. on Wednesday and Thursday for games 1 and 2. Games three, and four and five if necessary will be played at McCoy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I’m finishing up my eighth season as the voice of the PawSox, and the clincher was exciting. Pawtucket scored five runs in the first to take a 5-1 lead, highlighted by a Will Middlebrooks grand slam. It was the first homer by the third baseman since his promotion to Triple A. Credit Scranton for chipping away, coming all the way back to take a 7-5 lead. Down to their final six outs, Pawtucket got busy, scoring 7 runs in the bottom of the eighth. Down by two, Ryan Lavarnway blasted a three run jack onto the leftfield berm to give the PawSox a one run advantage, 8-7. It was the 18th homer he’s hit for Pawtucket and his 32d overall in 2011. Jose Iglesias and Joey Gathright each chipped in with a two run single. Daniel Nava drove in the first Pawtucket run with a first inning base hit.
With the Norths’ top spot locked up, a pretty wild looking celebration ensued on the McCoy infield. Guys doused each other with champagne and beer, celebrating the achievment. Everyone was fair game, including manager, Arnie Beyeler. Arnie spotted a couple of his players with an orange Gatorade cooler filled with ice water coming his way. He tried to sprint from foul territory on the third base side over to the visitors’ dugout on the first base side. Good idea, except he was being chased down by one of the fastest men in all of baseball, Joey Gathright. Joey caught him and downed him with a slide tackle. Very funny! Moments later, the skipper was drenched. It was a sight I won’t soon forget.
The PawSox wrap up the regular season on Sunday and Monday with games against lowly Rochester. At 79-61, Pawtucket could finish 20 games over .500 with a couple of wins. Job #1 was to make the playoffs. Mission accomplished. This could be a fun couple of weeks.