Pawtucket closer Heath Hembree escaped a bases loaded, one-out jam in the ninth after starter Edwin Escobar tossed seven strong innings and the PawSox held off the Durham Bulls, 3-2, on Tuesday night in game one of the best-of-five Governor’s Cup Finals series in front of 3,658 fans at McCoy Stadium.
Escobar (1-0) limited the Bulls to just six hits, all singles, and two runs while striking out five and not walking a batter. Then after Hembree stranded a pair of inherited runners in the eighth, the closer recorded a strikeout of Justin Christian and a groundout from Cole Figueroa to strand the bags packed in the ninth and finish the heart-stopping win.
Pawtucket, the International League’s wild card winner, leads the series 1-to-0 with game two scheduled to be played at McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night. The PawSox won their fourth consecutive game this postseason following a three-game sweep of North Division-champion Syracuse last week.
All five runs in the contest scored in the first three innings, with Durham starter Enny Romero (0-1) allowing a single tally in each of his three innings of work. Travis Shaw’s RBI single in the first plated Ivan DeJesus with the first run, then Deven Marrero singled home Blake Swihart in the second to double the lead.
Escobar ran into his only real trouble in the top of the third, when the Bulls collected three singles including a two-run hit from Mikie Mahtook that tied the game. Pawtucket answered right back in the bottom of the frame with back-to-back one-out singles from Ryan Lavarnway and Alex Hassan that left runners on the corners.
Garin Cecchini followed with a deep sacrifice fly to left on the 11th pitch of the at-bat against Romero. It brought home Lavarnway with the final run of the night. Durham relievers Doug Mathis (3.0 innings, one hit, four strikeouts) and Cory Burns (2.0 innings, no hits, two strikeouts) combined to blank the PawSox for the final five innings.
Escobar was pulled after 101 pitches through seven innings, and Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles used three hurlers in the eighth, with Dalier Hinojosa and Ryan Verdugo each walking a batter before Hembree fanned Tim Beckham to keep the lead.
Hembree allowed singles to Vince Belnome and Ray Olmedo with a walk to pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit sandwiched in between to load the bases with Bulls with one out in the ninth. But after a pitching coach visit Hembree punched out Christian on three pitches, then got Figueroa to ground to Shaw at first base on the first pitch to end the game.
Game two of the series is slated for a 7:05pm first pitch on Wednesday night. Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles will turn to left-hander Brian Johnson (NR) in his Triple-A debut, while the Bulls are slated to throw righty Alex Colome (0-1, 7.20).
Good seats are still available at the McCoy Stadium box office, by calling (401) 724-7300 or by visiting pawsox.com. Radio coverage on 920 AM (WHJJ) and also streaming online begins at 6:50 pm.
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