Triple-a Pawtucket is one win away from its first Governors Cup championship in almost 30 years, after beating Charlotte, 2-0, Wednesday night at McCoy Stadium to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Catcher Dan Butler scored both runs for the PawSox. He hit a solo home run in the second inning, and scored on Che-Hsuan Lins double in the fifth.
Right-hander Zach Stewart earned the win, improving to 2-0 in the playoffs. He went six innings, giving up four hits and a walk with four strikeouts. Stewart was acquired in June in the trade for Kevin Youkilis with the White Sox, Charlottes parent team.
Pedro Beato, Alex Wilson, and Jose De la Torre combined to hold Charlotte scoreless and hitless over the final three innings.
This is Pawtuckets first appearance in the Governors Cup finals since 2003. The win in Game 1 was its first in the finals since the decisive Game 5 in 1984. The PawSox were swept in their other appearances since then, in 1991 by Columbus and in 2003 by Durham. They had not won a Governors Cup final game at home since Sept. 10, 1978, when they beat Richmond in Game 5, but lost the championship in what was then a best-of-seven series.
That the PawSox have made it this far is somewhat surprising, given the turnover their roster has had. Only seven members of their Opening Day roster are still on the team: pitchers Will Inman, Tony Pena, Jr., Alex Wilson, infielder Nate Spears, and outfielders Che-Hsuan Lin, Jason Repko, and Alex Hassan , who is on the disabled list. Infielder Tony Thomas, who is currently on the PawSox playoff roster, was on Pawtuckets DL to begin the year. Only five players who were on Pawtuckets 2011 playoff roster are on its 2012 playoff roster Pena, Wilson, Butler, Lin, and Thomas. The PawSox had a six-man rotation to open the season. Just one of those pitchers Wilson is still with the team, but he has been working out of the bullpen since early in the season.
Pawtucket used 69 players during the regular season (35 pitchers, 34 position players), one short of its team-record of 70 players in 1995 and 2006 and two more than in 2011. The PawSox promoted 23 players to Boston during the season, while the major league team sent 17 different players to rehab with the PawSox.
While every minor league team is likely to go through a good amount of turnover, it is a testament to the jobs manager Arnie Beyeler, pitching coach Rich Sauveur, and hitting coach Gerald Perry have done to put the PawSox in the position they currently are. Consider:
Pawtuckets team ERA was fourth-best in the league at 3.43. It was a season-high 3.68 on June 26, and a season-low 2.79 on April 23.
Pawtuckets .982 fielding percentage was second-best in the league. The PawSox committed 96 errors in 5,324 chances.
Pawtucket was third the league in team batting, at .266, second in home runs (133) and slugging percentage (.412), third in hits (1,290) and on-base percentage (.336), and fourth in runs scored (654).
In their six play-off games so far, the PawSox have outscored their opponents, 29-13, while their pitchers have posted a combined 2.18 ERA, holding opponents to a .173 average.
All-Stars Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias, and Mauro Gomez, the International League MVP, are among those who are no longer with the PawSox, earning call-ups to the big league team.
The PawSox are 5-1 overall in the postseason, after winning their first-round series 3-1, and 4-0 at home. Going back to the regular season, winning eight of their final 10 games, the PawSox have won 13 of the last 16 games. They have won seven of their last eight home games.
Pawtucket, the only team in the Red Sox organization to reach the postseason this year, can clinch its first league championship since 1984 as early as Thursday when the series moves to Charlotte (for the final three games, if necessary). A win on Thursday would give the PawSox their first-ever sweep in a playoff series in their 40-year franchise history.
If the PawSox win the IL championship, they will face the Pacific Coast League champion in a one-game, winner-take-all Triple-A National Championship game on Sept. 18 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park at 7 p.m. The PCL series stands at 1-1 between Reno (Diamondbacks) and Omaha (Royals).
A few other notes:
Nelson Figueroa will start Thursday in the potential clincher. Figueroa started the game in which the PawSox clinched a post-season berth, and the clinching game against the Yankees in the first round.
Pitching in Games 1 and 2, Alex Wilson appeared on consecutive days for the first time in his career. He has retired all 14 batters he has faced in the postseason.
Earning the save on Wednesday, Jose De la Torre has three saves in the postseason.
Dan Butlers solo home run on Wednesday was his 10th of the season, fourth since joining Pawtucket on Aug. 3.
If necessary, left-hander Chris Hernandez will start Game 4 Friday in Charlotte opposed by right-hander Matt Zaleski, and right-hander Billy Buckner will start Saturday. Charlotte has not yet named its Game 5 starter.
If the PawSox play the PCL champions for the Triple-A title, that will mark the latest into a season they have ever played. Their previous late date is Sept. 15, 1977, when Pawtucket lost Game 4 of the finals at Charleston, getting swept in the best-of-seven series. If their current series goes to all five games, the PawSox will match that late date.
Since 1973, the PawSox are 36-51 overall, making 15 post-season appearances. They have won just two playoff series since their last Cup championship in 1984, beating the Ottawa Lynx in the 2003 semifinals, and this year when they beat the ScrantonWilkes-Barre Yankees in the first round. They are 1-10 in their last 11 elimination games since their last championship.
From Chris Sprague of the IL office: Only nine of the 25 players on the current PawSox playoff roster were born when the PawSox last won the Governors Cup in 1984. They are Billy Buckner, Nelson Figueroa (the elder statesman who was 10 at the time), Tony Pena, Jr., Steven Wright (who was 15 days young at the time), Mike Rivera, Jon Hee, Andy LaRoche, J.C. Linares (who probably didnt get Governors Cup results in Cuba those days), and Jason Repko. PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler was a 20 year-old star infielder for Wichita State University back in 1984.