With Triple-A Gwinnett hitting on all cylinders at the plate in Sunday's matchup at Pawtucket, the Red Sox needed all the help they could find to keep their opponents off the basepaths. And a little bit of luck.
Pawtucket turned an early jam in the top of the second inning into the third triple play in the Minor Leagues this season after a hard line drive ricocheted off first base and umpire Jeremy Riggs. The Red Sox rode that energy through a back-and-forth game capped with a walk-off RBI single by Pawtucket's Mike Miller in a 10-9 victory over Triple-A Gwinnett at McCoy Stadium.
Video: The PawSox turn a triple play against Gwinnett
Sunday's triple play came one day after Class A Burlington turned three outs off a line drive in the fifth inning of a 5-3 win over Quad Cities in the opener of a doubleheader.
The Stripers took an early lead in the first on a two-RBI single by Dustin Peterson, and they were threatening again to lead off the second. Ezequiel Carrera and top Braves prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. knocked a pair of outfield singles and Rio Ruiz came to the plate with right-hander William Cuevas on the mound.
Ruiz knocked a low, hard line drive down the first-base line. It bounced off the base, then the first-base umpire and back toward the bag. First baseman Sam Travis scooped it up and tossed it to Cuevas, who stepped on first for the forceout. Players on both sides seemed to think the ricochet would be called a dead ball, but because Riggs was standing behind Travis when the ball caromed off him, the play was considered live.
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Cuevas quickly threw a dart to Red Sox shortstop Ivan De Jesus Jr., who tagged out Acuna in a scramble between second and third. The shortstop relayed to catcher Mike Ohlman, who ran down Carrera between third and home for the play's third out.
"It was just a heads up play by Travis and then Jeremy to keep the play rolling," said Red Sox manager Kevin Boles. "But I thought he made the correct call to keep it live.
"The execution with so many changes of direction and the throws our guys made, they took care of the baseball. It was terrific."
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With such an odd sequence of events, Boles didn't fault the Stripers for being caught confused on the basepaths, but he was proud of how his infielders continued grinding until an umpire told them otherwise.
"Let the ump stop the game. That's what our players are trained to do," Boles said. "It's really pushed in this organization to finish and then look for the next base, the next runner, the next out, and our guys reacted and just showed a calm presence. ... It was a game-changer."
It was the PawSox's first triple play since May 19, 2014, when Garin Cecchini started an around-the-horn gem against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Pawtucket then cut Gwinnett's lead in half in the bottom of the second on a solo shot by Ohlman, before taking the 3-2 advantage in the fifth after doubles from De Jesus Jr. and Aneury Tavarez. The Stripers tied up the game in the ninth on RBI knocks by Ruiz and Carlos Franco.
After both teams scored in the 10th, Gwinnett took a 9-6 lead in the 11th off Ruiz's two-RBI double and a run-scoring single by Sean Kazmar Jr. But in the bottom of the frame, doubles by Ohlman and Tavarez knocked in three runs to tie the game up with one out ahead of Miller's game-winning single to left, which scored Tavarez.
Boles couldn't stress enough how key the triple play was in keeping the Red Sox in the game early and changing the momentum.
"If that gets by, that's a couple runs right there. Getting three on one play, it's certainly an impact," he said. "Guys just picked each other up all day."
With three singles, Acuna Jr. delivered his best day of the season at the plate, elevating his average to .217 after he entered with a .185 mark. Ruiz, Franco and Rob Brantly added three hits apiece for the Stripers.
Pawtucket's Castillo, De Jesus and Tavarez each collected three knocks.
Right-hander Kyle Martin (2-1) picked up the win after allowing four runs -- two earned -- on three hits and two walks over two innings.