The Pawtacket Red Sox Lost the Battle Friday, but May Have Won the War

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 29:  Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox sits in the dugout before the start of the AAA baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Charlotte Knights at Knights Stadium on June 29, 2005 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Maybe the Pawtucket Red Sox lost the battle Friday night, in their home opener against the Leigh Valley Iron Pigs.

But because knuckleballer Charlie Zink and reliever Billy Traber gave them nine innings, the PawSox may win the war, the war being the remainder of a six-game homestand.

The Iron Pigs eked out a 4-3 victory before an all-time McCoy Stadium record crowd of 11,892, but the PawSox's situation is more encouraging given the efforts of Zink and Traber.

Here's why.

Clay Buchholz originally was scheduled to start Friday's' gamebut was scratched because of a strained hamstring muscle. And Devern Hansack, who's normally a starter but has been pitching long relief this season, is on the disabled list with a dislocated shoulder.

As a result, manager Ron Johnson must resort to a "bullpen game" today, meaning he'll have to piece things together with his relievers.

If either Zink or Traber imploded Friday, the PawSox's bullpen would have been a disaster.

"We hate to lose ball games, but we were playing to win this game in nine innings," said Johnson. "Charlie did a fantastic job. I really was pleased with his stuff tonight. He had the one inning where he lost command and that was the third [when the Iron Pigs scored two runs on two hits and three hit batters].  What was good to see was he stayed in and all of a sudden he got it back and did a great job for us. He went six."

Zink (0-2), who struggled at times with his command, allowed four runs on only four hits but walked three in six innings.

The Iron Pigs scored what proved to be the decisive runs in the fifth on Andy Tracy's two-run homer. But they also stranded five runners during Zink's stint, otherwise the game could have been over early

Traber, meanwhile, was nothing short of outstanding, especially when compared with his pitching last season with the Yankees.

In three innings Friday, the left-hander allowed one hit, walked nobody and fanned three. And he threw 25 of 38 pitches for strikes.

Traber's performance was the polar opposite of the ones he delivered last year in the Bronx when, in 19 relief appearances, he posted a bloated 7.02 ERA and allowed 23 hits in 16 2/3 innings.

"We've got a bullpen game [Saturday] and [Marcus]McBeth is going to start but he's probably going to throw only two innings," said Johnson. "So, we had to fill this game.

"These guys [Zink and Traber] gave us opportunities to win this game. We just couldn't get it done offensively."

Traber seldom gave the Yankees opportunities to win games last season, which was one reason why he was a frequent passenger on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre-New York shuttle.

"Every time he's gotten the ball he's done what a reliever's supposed to do," said Johnson. "He comes in and gets us off the field without giving up runs. He's done a really nice job.

"If we knew what held back certain guys in certain situations, we could get a formula for helping certain people like [Traber]. There's time frames and time tables that develop. There's guys that click at certain times. Billy's pitched a long time. He's a veteran. He's been in the big leagues. He knows what he needs to do.

"The only thing I can say about this guy in my experience with him here is he's a tremendous person," continued Johnson. "He's a really good teammate and for me he's been a really good bullpen guy because as a manager I've put him in a game and he's gotten my team off the field."