September 14, 2012 at 8:10 AM
9/14 Cup of Coffee: For the first time in 28 years, the Pawtucket Red Sox are International League Champions. A 4-1 win on Thursday night completed their three game sweep of the Charlotte Knights (CWS) to win the Governors' Cup.
Nelson Figueroa, the PawSox 38-year-old veteran, continued his pitching dominance Thursday night. Picked up at midseason after being released by the Yankees organization, the Brandeis alumnus pitched 6.0 strong innings, allowing one run on seven hits. He struck out five, and did not walk a batter as he earned his second win of the postseason.
The PawSox jumped off to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. With Andy LaRoche and Danny Valencia in scoring position, Mike Rivera looped a one-out base hit in front of left fielder Jared Mitchell. Valencia came in to score, while LaRoche held up at third, not wanting to test Mitchell's strong arm. After a Ryan Dent walk, Che-hsuan Lin was able to score LaRoche on a sacrifice fly.
After Charlotte picked up a run in the fifth to cut the lead in half, Pawtucket added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh inning. Jeremy Hazelbaker, promoted from Double-A Portland in the last week of the regular season, tripled to score Lin. Hazelbaker was then able to score easily when Juan Carlos Linares ripped a single to center, giving the PawSox a 4-1 lead.
Any lead would have been sufficient for the Pawtucket relief corps. The bullpen was perfect in the series, pitching 8.0 scoreless innings across the three games. On Thursday, Will Inman, Jose De La Torre and Josh Fields each threw a hitless inning to keep the Knights at bay. Fields, who has not allowed a run in both the regular season and postseason since his early August promotion to Triple-A, was credited with the save. After hitting Mitchell with a pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Fields induced a ground ball to first baseman LaRoche, who fielded the ball cleanly to seal the Cup.
Pawtucket will play on Tuesday in a one-game Triple-A championship against the winner of the Pacific Coast League final. That series is currently tied at one game apiece between the Omaha Storm Chasers (KC) and the Reno Aces (ARI).
Player of the Night: The nod nod goes to starting pitcher Nelson Figueroa. The right-hander was signed off the waiver wire in July to provide veteran leadership to a staff that had recently seen many of the arms who helped through the first half depart. Figueroa lived up to his billing, going 5-3 with a 3.77 ERA in eight appearances in the regular season, then stepping up a level in the postseason. He won the clinching game in both the semi-finals and the championship, allowing only two runs in 14.0 innings. In the two starts, he struck out 13 batters while walking just one.
Photo credit: Nelson Figueroa from milb.com