September 5, 2014 at 6:00 AM
9/5 Cup of Coffee: For the second consecutive evening, the Red Sox affiliates took two of their three playoff matchups. A command performance by Matt Barnes backed by a four-hit night from Garin Cecchini gave Pawtucket a 2-0 lead in its best-of-five series. Portland pulled even in its series, using a dominant start from Justin Haley and four home runs. Salem took the only loss on the night, forcing a decisive game three on Friday.
After taking a 1-0 series lead on Wednesday, the PawSox got off to a fast start on Thursday. Jackie Bradley, Jr. led off the first inning with a base hit, moving to second on a Justin Henry walk. Travis Shaw doubled home Bradley for the game's first run. and Henry raced home on a Ryan Lavarnway ground out. Garin Cecchini ripped a single to left to score Shaw, and Pawtucket never looked back.
The three runs in the first were plenty of support for Matt Barnes. The 2011 first-round pick out of UConn continued his late season dominance scattering three hits over seven shutout innings, striking out six without issuing a walk. Over one stretch Barnes retired 13 consecutive Chiefs batters. His strong start was in line with a resurgent second half, as Barnes had a 2.38 ERA and 0.868 WHIP in his last eight starts.
Pawtucket tacked on a bevy of insurance runs, often with Cecchini at the center of the action. The third baseman finished 4 for 4 with a triple, scoring and driving in two apiece. Ryan Roberts chipped in with three hits in the winning effort.
The Chiefs picked up a pair of runs in the eighth off of John Ely, but Miguel Celestino slammed the door on they Syracuse rally with 1 1/3 hitless innings.
The best-of-five semifinal series will shift to NBT Stadium in Syracuse, where Friday's contest, plus any remaining necessary games, will be played. Left-hander Henry Owens is scheduled to be on the mound as Pawtucket tries to complete the sweep.
The Sea Dogs pulled even in their series Thursday, dominating the Mets in every aspect of the game. Portland did most of its damage on offense in the second inning. Stefan Welch led off the frame with a solo homer. After Michael Brenly reached on an error, he scored when Shannon Wilkerson tripled. Wilkerson then came home on a fielding error, giving Portland a 3-0 edge. Mike Miller then singled, followed by Sean Coyle's home run.
Welch blasted his second homer of the night in the third inning, and Keury De La Cruz went deep in the fifth. Overall, the Sea Dogs had 11 hits, with three off the bat of Miller.
Meanwhile, Justin Haley (pictured, right) was cruising on the mound. Haley tossed six shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out eight. The right-hander was somewhat overshadowed in 2014, but he had an excellent season, with a 2.35 regular season ERA in 130 1/3 innings across two levels. Wilfredo Boscan continued the effort in relief, firing three shutout frames to get credit for the save.
The series will move to the friendly confines of Portland's Hadlock Field, where the Sea Dogs were 48-28 on the year. Portland needs to win two of the three remaining games to advance to the Eastern League finals.
Salem fell to the only loss on the night, as a quartet of Pelicans pitchers held the Red Sox to five hits. Salem actually scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the second. Manuel Margot led off the inning with a walk. He went to third on a Mario Martinez base hit, then scored on a Jake Romanski ground out. It would be all Myrtle Beach from there forward.
The Pelicans reached starter Pat Light for four runs (three earned) on four hits in 4 1/3 innings. Light struck out and walked two apiece. Jonathan Aro kept the game within striking distance with a strong outing out of the bullpen. Aro struck out seven of the 14 batters he faced, finishing with 3 2/3 shutout innings. He allowed a pair of hits and issued one walk.
Myrtle Beach will host the decisive third game on Friday. Cody Kukuk is the scheduled Red Sox starter.
Player of the Day: There were quite a few strong options on Thursday. Matt Barnes and Justin Haley both pitched in with gems to lead their squads, while Stefan Welch homered twice in the Portland blowout. However the nod goes to Garin Cecchini, whose 4-for-4 effort helped Pawtucket push the Syracuse Chiefs to the brink of elimination. Cecchini is now 5 for 9 in the first two games of the postseason, following an August that turned around what had been a very frustrating season to that point. Cecchini hit .333/.413/.500 in the final month of the regular season, and 10 of the 21 doubles he had on the year came in August.
Photo Credit: Garin Cecchini and Justin Haley by Kelly O'Connor