PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The Gwinnett Braves took a three-run lead to the bottom of the ninth, withstood a furious rally from Pawtucket and held on to beat the Red Sox 5-4 in Game 1 of the four-game series at McCoy Stadium on Saturday night.
The win, combined with Columbus’s 4-3 victory over Charlotte, moves the G-Braves to within 2.5 games of the first-place Knights in the International League South standings.
The G-Braves broke a scoreless tie with two runs in the top of the fifth off of Red Sox starter and former Braves infielder Tony Pena, Jr. With one out, Josh Wilson lined a single to left and moved to third on a double off the left field wall by Lance Zawadzki. Both scored on a single to left-center by Luis Durango, giving Gwinnett a 2-0 lead.
The lead went to 3-0 in the top of the sixth as Ernesto Mejia cracked a solo homer (10) to right-center. The blast raised Mejia’s team-leading RBI count to 43.
The PawSox trimmed the lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth as hot-hitting Ryan Kalish hit a solo homer to left center off of G-Braves starter Jose Lugo.
In the bottom of the eighth, Pawtucket narrowed the lead even further as former G-Braves first baseman Mauro Gomez poked a two-out single to center off of reliever Anthony Varvaro. Lars Anderson followed with a double off the wall in right-center. The hit scored Gomez from first to cut the Gwinnett lead to 3-2.
However, the G-Braves rebounded in the top of the ninth as Jose Yepez drilled a one-out solo homer off of Red Sox reliever Garrett Mock to make it 4-2. Zawadzki then hit his second double of the game, a shot off the wall in left-center, and Durango walked putting two on with two outs. Tyler Pastornicky doubled to right scoring Zawadzki to make it 5-2, but Durango was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first to end the inning.
The G-Braves needed every one of their runs as closer Cory Gearrin ran into trouble in the bottom of the ninth. He hit the first batter he faced, Mike Rivera. Then with one out, Nate Spears singled putting runners on the corners, and Pedro Ciriaco singled in Rivera from third, cutting the lead to 5-3. Kalish smashed a single to right, scoring Spears to make it 5-4; and Ciriaco took third. Gearrin, however, got Gomez to fly out to right to end the threat and the game.
Lugo (1-1) made a spot start for Gwinnett, his first with the club since May 31, 2011. Lugo turned in a quality start of six innings with six hits, one earned run, one walk and three strikeouts. Varvaro worked two innings with three hits, one earned run, no walks and four strikeouts. Gearrin picked up his seventh save, working the ninth with three hits, two earned runs, no walks and one strikeout.
Pena (0-4) pitched five inning, alowing two earned runs while striking out seven. Junichi Tazawa worked two innings of relief with one hit, one earned run, two walks and two strikeouts. Mock also pitched two innings with three hits, two earned runs, one walk and three strikeouts.
At the plate, the G-Braves were led by Durango who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Zawadzki had a 2-for-4 night. Wilson, Yepez, Mejia and Pastornicky all added hits with Yepez and Mejia contributing solo homers.
Kalish was 4-for-5 for the PawSox with two RBIs. Ciriaco, Gomez, and Spears each had two singles.
Gwinnett (34-29) and Pawtucket (39-24) will play game two of the four-game series at McCoy Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Eric Junge (3-5, 4.16 ERA) is scheduled to start for the G-Braves. The PawSox will counter with right-hander Justin Germano (6-3, 2.77 ERA). First pitch set for 1:05 p.m.