COLUMBUS—In a game that pitted one of the International League’s best offenses against one of Triple-A’s top pitchers, the former prevailed. Barely.
The Columbus Clippers (12-10) rallied to beat the Pawtucket Red Sox (15-8), 6-4, on Saturday in front of 6,191 fans on a chilly night at Huntington Park.
The Clippers, who came into Saturday’s contest leading the IL in team batting average (.295), scored three runs off Red Sox starter, right-hander Aaron Cook (3-0), who ranked among league leaders in earned run average (fourth at 1.33) and wins heading into the matchup.
The runs that won the game for Columbus, though, came in the bottom of the eighth inning. Trailing 4-3, a sacrifice fly by Clippers’ first baseman Russ Canzler tied the game, and a two-run home run to right field by designated hitter Beau Mills put Columbus in the lead for good.
Clippers’ manager Mike Sarbaugh said the comeback didn’t surprise him, as Columbus has had multiple late-inning rallies this season.
“Especially with our club, we feel good about ourselves offensively,” he said. “If we can keep it close like that, it was a really good eighth inning and we’ve done that before. We feel good if we can keep ourselves in the game.”
Matched against Cook was Columbus right-hander Kevin Slowey (1-2). The Red Sox had little trouble against Slowey, with 10 hits in six innings, but a few timely double plays, including a game-ending one, helped Slowey and the Clippers’ relief pitchers.
“The big (double play) was in the eighth, first and third with no outs. (Jose) De La Torre got a strike out and then the double play. Those were big.”
Mills, with his two-run homer, and right-fielder Ryan Spilborghs, who went 1-for-3 with three RBIs, supplied most of the offense for Columbus.
A sacrifice fly by Spilborghs opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning.
Clippers’ left fielder Matt LaPorta started the second inning off with a walk. After a single to right field by Canzler and a wild pitch from Cook, LaPorta and Canzler were both in scoring position with no outs.
Columbus’s next batter, Mills, failed to take advantage of the opportunity, striking out. Spilborghs didn’t, hitting a deep fly ball to the warning track in right field, plating LaPorta for the first run of the game.
Cook then shut the door on the Columbus offense, allowing no runs and two hits over the next three innings.
The same could not be said, meanwhile, for Slowey and the Red Sox hitters.
Pawtucket got a run back in the top of the third inning on an RBI-single to right field by Red Sox left fielder Alex Hassan.
The Red Sox then took the lead in the top of the fourth inning, scoring three runs on a single by Hassan and a double by center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin.
The Clippers offense, which stranded three runners in scoring position through five innings, came through against Cook in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Spilborghs hit a line-drive single to center field, scoring LaPorta and Canzler, who reached on a walk and a single, respectively.
Sarbaugh said being able to score three runs off a quality starter in Cook was key.
“His ball never did the same thing. (Cook) knows how to pitch. What impressed me was when he did get into trouble, he really stepped up,” Sarbaugh said.
Cook’s counter-part, Slowey, was replaced after the sixth inning, and three scoreless innings of relief from the Clippers’ bullpen kept the game within reach.
Sarbaugh said Slowey, whose last start was 12 days ago in Louisville, pitched well after a lengthy time off.
“I thought he threw the ball well. I thought he had good life on his fastball, and really took it out there. That one inning, he left a couple balls up in the zone, but other than that, he threw well,” he said.
In the bottom of the eighth, a sacrifice fly to right field by Canzler tied the game, and Mills towering drive to right-field proved to be game-winning.
Columbus will look to take the third game in a four-game series on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.