The Thrill and the Agony...This week in sports

Perfect in Pawtucket

I rarely have the opportunity to see a major league baseball game in person. The Baltimore Orioles played about an hour north of where I grew up in Virginia. Now I live in Providence, R.I. – and the Boston Red Sox are likewise an hour north. Home games, for me, are far away. But minor league baseball is another story.

One of the joys of the minor leagues is their proximity. Although the caliber of play is perhaps a notch below the majors, the intimacy of the setting and the ticket price more than make up for it. It’s not just that McCoy Stadium, home of the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, is a mere 10 minutes north of Providence. It’s also that for five bucks I can get in, or for eight bucks I can get a box seat on the level of the field.

Sometimes magic can happen in the minors. For example, the longest baseball game in history was played at McCoy, a deadlocked struggle lasting 33 innings and played over a span of three days in the summer of 1981. The Rochester Red Wings, an Orioles farm team that included future major league star Cal Ripken, Jr., lost to Wade Boggs and the PawSox 3-2 after more than eight grueling hours of baseball.

Magic was again in the air at McCoy on Aug. 10. Right-handed pitcher Bronson Arroyo pitched a perfect nine innings as the PawSox defeated the Buffalo Bisons 7-0. A perfect game is pitching’s rarest accomplishment: in the 120 years of the International League, there have only been four perfect nine-inning games. Two of them have happened in Pawtucket – the previous being Tomo Ohka’s on June 1, 2000.

Arroyo retired every single batter that he faced. None were walked, none got on base. With nine strikeouts, a third of the batters never even left the batter’s box. Arroyo threw just 101 total pitches, 73 of which were strikes. Arroyo had plenty of offensive help from his teammates, and the PawSox defense was solid as well – including a leaping catch at the wall by center fielder Adrian Brown.

“It was one of those days,” Arroyo commented. “After you get through three or four innings of easy work and you haven’t thrown many pitches, you kind of keep rolling and rolling. As the game goes on and the crowd the way they were, it’s hard not to have some energy out there.”

And just think – I could have been there!

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org