In a season of dominance so far, the next act in Pawtucket Red Sox left-hander Jalen Beeks' story centered on efficiency, as the ace logged a season-best 6.2 innings, only for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders to come from behind with a 4-3 walk-off win Thursday night at PNC Field.
The RailRiders (13-13), however, netted a pair of runs after Beeks' departure to grab a lead, surrendered that cushion in the top of the ninth but won the game in home half. Minutes after he made a key to throw to nab a Pawtucket (12-12) runner in the top half of the ninth, RailRiders center fielder Clint Frazier led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple and proceeded to score the winning run on a walk-off sacrifice fly from designated hitter Ryan McBroom.
Working into the seventh inning for the first time in 2018, Beeks' sharpness was in no way dulled, as the left-hander struck out nine, allowed just five hits and a walk and left with a 2-1 lead, a man at first and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning after getting a punchout on his 96th and final pitch of the night. The RailRiders connected on a two-run homer immediately after his departure, tagging Beeks with two earned runs overall and nudging his season ERA to a still-paltry 1.71.
Beeks has now piled up 46 strikeouts in 26.1 innings, fanning at least eight in each of his five starts. The 24-year old southpaw from Prairie Grove, Arkansas, began the night second in the league in strikeouts, fourth in ERA and first in strikeouts per nine. He also entered Thursday's start pacing the International League with an absurd strikeout rate of 45.1% (the next-closest mark was 35%) and a swinging strike rate of 17.0%. With 14 more swings-and-misses, Beeks now has generated a staggering 76 swings-and-misses through five starts.
PawSox second baseman Mike Miller (3-for-4, 2 R, HR, RBI) paced the offense, which also received two-hit efforts from center fielder Rusney Castillo, shortstop Ivan De Jesus Jr., designated hitter Mike Olt and first baseman Jordan Betts.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Nestor Cortes fired 3.2 innings of scoreless work, and righty J.P. Feyereisen (W, 2-1) blew the ninth-inning save but earned the win after 2.1 innings of one-run relief.
Pawtucket reliever Ryan Brasier (L, 2-2) gave up the leadoff triple and sacrifice fly in the ninth.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when catcher Kyle Higashioka launched a solo homer to left field.
Pawtucket leveled the game in the top of the fifth when Miller tagged an opposite-field solo blast - his second homer of the season - to right to make it 1-1.
The PawSox surged ahead 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning. With runners at first and second and against a new reliever in Feyereisen, De Jesus Jr. pulled an RBI single into left field to plate Miller.
After Beeks departed with a man at first and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, RailRiders left fielder and No. 9 hitter Zack Zehner greeted Ty Buttrey by drilling a two-run, go-ahead home run to lift Scranton/Wilkes-Barre ahead, 3-2.
Pawtucket placed runners at first and second in the top of the ninth inning, and Castillo stung a game-tying RBI single to center to score pinch-runner Chad De La Guerra. RailRiders center fielder Clint Frazier, however, threw to third to cut down Miller for the second out.
Frazier led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple and, two batters later, scored when McBroom skied a sac fly to right.
The PawSox continue the four-game, home-and-home series with the RailRiders on Friday at 6:35 p.m. Pawtucket right-hander William Cuevas (1-1, 3.74 ERA) is scheduled to oppose RailRiders righty Chance Adams (0-2, 5.11 ERA). Radio coverage on WHJJ (920 AM and 104.7 FM) and throughout the PawSox Radio Network begins with the pre-game show at 6:05 p.m.