PORTLAND – With the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a tie game, Portland Sea Dogs second baseman Nate Spears connected on a 3-1 fastball.

“I got a good pitch,” Spears said about his drive to right field. “I thought we were going to be up by four. But I just missed it.”

Instead of a grand slam, Spears settled for a sacrifice fly that drove in Yamaico Navarro. It proved to be the winning run in Portland’s 4-1 victory over the New Britain Rock Cats on Saturday afternoon at Hadlock Field.

The way their pitchers are throwing, the Sea Dogs can play small ball and score enough to win.

“Our pitching staff is coming through right now, keeping us in the ballgame,” Spears said.

Sea Dogs starter Felix Doubront allowed one run on three hits and two walks over 52/3 innings. T.J. Large (1-0) pitched two perfect innings, and Bryce Cox got the last four outs for his third save.

“We’ve got good pitching,” said catcher Luis Exposito, who was the designated hitter Saturday. “We’re playing good defense and we’re getting timely hitting.”

Exposito doubled home a run in the eighth. Navarro knocked in the other two runs, with a groundout in the second inning and a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Portland (12-9) has won five of its last six games, while the struggling Rock Cats (4-17) lost their seventh straight.

The Rock Cats received a good start from Carlos Gutierrez, who allowed one run and three hits, but they got little offense and shaky relief.

“We have 12 losses in the bullpen, which means most of the games are lost from the seventh inning on,” said Rock Cats Manager Jeff Smith, who played briefly for the Sea Dogs in 2003. “It comes down to if you don’t score runs, then mistakes get magnified quite a bit.

“We’ll eventually get it, but it’s hard times right now.”

Gutierrez showed excellent command, except when pitching to Exposito.

In the second inning, Gutierrez threw two fastballs behind Exposito’s head before walking him. In the sixth inning, Gutierrez hit Exposito with an off-speed pitch. Exposito stared at Gutierrez, who pointed to first base.

“He just said, ‘Go to first base,’ ” Exposito said. “He throws two pitches behind my back, and then he hits me. He doesn’t come close to anyone else.

“It is what it is. We came out with a win.”

A warning was issued by home plate umpire Tim Eastman, but Sea Dogs Manager Arnie Beyeler apparently thought Gutierrez should have been reprimanded further. After the inning, Beyeler argued with Eastman and was thrown out of the game.

Spencer Steedley (1-2) relieved in the seventh and gave up singles to Navarro and Chih-Hsien Chiang and a walk to Will Vazquez, followed by Spears’ sacrifice fly.

 

NOTES: Outfielder Matt Sheely returned to Portland after his temporary stay in Pawtucket Shortstop Jose Iglesias had a scheduled day off. The paid attendance was 6,890.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]