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September 2, 2011 at 8:37 AM

Blasts propel Drive to victory as magic number falls to 3

9/2 Cup of Coffee: Greenville was the lone affiliate to bring home a win last night, cutting its magic number to clinch a playoff spot to  the evening among the affiliates as the calendar turned to September.

The PawSox had Thursday off, but saw their playoff chances improve regardless. Second-place Lehigh Valley (PHI) was also idle, so Pawtucket's magic number to clinch the International League North remained at 2, up 3.0 games with four to play. However, Gwinnett's (ATL) 9-4 loss to Norfolk (BAL) pushed the Braves into a tie with Lehigh Valley for the IL wild card, cutting Pawtucket's magic number with regard to the wild card to 2 as well. All four teams have four games left to play: Pawtucket with two against 71-66 Scranton/Wilkes Barre (NYY) and two against 52-88 Rochester (MIN), Lehigh Valley with two against 60-78 Buffalo (NYM) and two against 65-71 Syracuse (WAS), and Gwinnett with four against 68-72 Charlotte (CWS).

Portland had the poor luck to face the rehabbing Stephen Strasburg in his final start before being activated by the Nationals, unsurprisingly mustering little offense in a 10-0 loss to Harrisburg. Catcher Dan Butler had the lone hit for Portland, a leadoff double in the sixth, and had one of the Sea Dogs' two walks, the other worked by shortstop Ryan Dent. Caleb Clay was activated from the disabled list to make the start, pitching 2.0 strong innings in his first action since August 3, allowing a run on 2 hits and a walk while striking out three. The Nationals touched Mike Lee for 8 runs over his 3.0 innings before he gave way to Will Latimer, who held Harrisburg to 1 more run over his solid 3.0 innings. Strasburg went 6.0 innings, allowing just the Butler double and striking out 4. The Sea Dogs return home tonight to begin a season-ending, four-game series with New Hampshire (TOR).

Salem's game against Winston-Salem (CWS) was postponed due to rain. The teams will close out their series with a doubleheader today before the Red Sox head to Myrtle Beach (TEX) for a three-game set to end their season.

With the Drive tied with Hickory, 1-1, in the sixth, catcher Christian Vazquez clubbed a one-out home run to left to put Greenville up for good, en route to an 8-3 victory. The Drive, who opened the scoring in the third on a Drew Hedman home run, scored another run in the sixth on a wild pitch before. The Crawdads responded with a run in the bottom of the sixth, but left fielder Brandon Jacobs put the Drive comfortably out in front with a three-run home run in the top of the seventh. After another Hickory run in the eighth, shortstop Xander Bogaerts provided the final margin with a two-run double in the ninth, scoring second baseman Sean Coyle and Jacobs. Brandon Workman turned in another solid outing to build on his strong August (5 starts, 29.0 innings, 23 hits, 12 runs (10 earned), 6 walks, 26 strikeouts), earning his sixth win on the back of 6.0 innings in which he allowed 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 4. Mathew Price followed, continuing his return from Tommy John surgery in his first career action above Rookie ball by allowing 1 run in 1.1 innings on 3 hits and a walk, striking out 1. Mike Gleason earned his fifth save of the year with 1.2 scoreless innings. At the plate, Vazquez, Bogaerts, Hedman, and right fielder Henry Ramos had two hits apiece, with Vazquez adding a pair of walks, although he threw out just one of six attempted base stealers. The Drive, per usual, ran wild as well, with Coyle swiping three bags to reach 20 for the year and Jacobs stealing his 30th base. Also of note, former University of South Carolina star Jackie Bradley, Jr. made his Drive debut following his promotion from Lowell, going 0-for-4 and playing center field.

As for the playoff chase, the Drive entered a virtual three-way tie for second place in the South Atlantic League Southern Division. They have an identical record with Asheville (COL), and technically sit behind Augusta (SFG) due to percentage points, with all two games behind first-place Savannah. All four teams have four games to play. If Savannah, who also won the first-half division crown, goes on to win the division again, the Drive will make the playoffs by virtue of already clinching the second-best overall (season-long) record in the division. The Drive's "magic number" is 3, but that is actually a combination of Savannah wins and Augusta losses.

Lowell rounded out the slate last night with a 7-1 loss at home to Brooklyn (NYM), finishing the Cyclones' three-game sweep to close the Spinners' home schedule. Center fielder Keury De La Cruz and designated hitter Adalberto Ibarra each had a pair of hits to pace the offense, while catcher Tim Roberson had a double and a walk. Starter Jason Garcia took the loss, allowing 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks over 4.1 innings, striking out 3. After allowing 3 Brooklyn runs in the first, Garcia settled in before tiring in the fifth. Swen Huijer continued a solid season with 3.2 innings of relief in which he struck out 6 hitters, allowing a single run on 4 hits and 2 walks. The Spinners begin a four-game set at Connecticut (DET) to close out their season with a doubleheader today.

Player of the Night: Drive catcher Christian Vazquez had the second of three big home runs for the Drive, but his blast, his 16th of the year, put Greenville up for good and was part of a night in which he reached base four times.