PORTLAND — They finished with five straight wins, seven in their last eight games.
The Portland Sea Dogs could not avoid a losing season (70-71), but they left Hadlock Field Monday afternoon with a good feeling, especially after a 7-4 win over the playoff-bound New Hampshire Fisher Cats before a crowd of 5,788.
“Over the last couple of weeks, the guys have played hard. Nice to see them not quit,” Sea Dogs Manager Arnie Beyeler said. “Shows the kind of character they have. Going to be exciting to watch a lot of those guys in the next few years.”
Anthony Rizzo broke a 4-4 tie in the fourth inning with a three-run homer that sailed over the L.L. Bean boot in right field. It was Rizzo’s 20th home run and, counting his month with Class A Salem, he finished with 25 home runs and 100 RBI.
“I learned a lot this year, development-wise and growing up-wise,” Rizzo said. “I learned a lot about the game at this level.”
Rizzo, 21, is one of the Boston Red Sox top prospects, and was named before the game as the team’s MVP, based on voting by the fans.
But the Sea Dogs had another player just as valuable, although his name and potential are not as well noticed.
Nate Spears, 25, a minor league free agent, completed a sensational season with his 20th home run, two walks and three runs scored. He tied the Sea Dogs franchise record for runs scored in a season (104, previously set by Ralph Milliard in 1995).
“Good kid who plays hard every day,” Beyeler said. “Good things happen to guys who do that.”
Spears simply called the season “a great year. Good things have happened for me.”
Spears led off for the Sea Dogs. With Portland already down 2-0 in the first inning, Spears swatted the second pitch just over the right-field wall.
The Sea Dogs took a 3-2 lead in the third on RBI from Ryan Lavarnway (single) and Luis Exposito (double).
For Lavarnway, it was his 102nd RBI, counting his time in Salem, which is tops among Red Sox minor leaguers.
For Exposito, who has been in Portland all year, it was his team-leading 94th RBI — ranking him fifth on the Sea Dogs’ all-time list for RBI in a season.
Exposito stayed at 94 because he was ejected for arguing a called third strike in the fifth.
Sea Dogs starter Alex Wilson (4-5) allowed two runs in the fourth on a walk and two hits. But Portland made Wilson a winner with a four-run fourth.
Ryan Khoury (3 for 4) led off with a single. Two walks loaded the bases. Jose Iglesias knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Rizzo followed with his blast.
Khoury later doubled in the game, giving him 59 for his Sea Dogs career (tied for fifth best in Sea Dogs history). Khoury is also third in all-time walks (131).
NOTES: Spears and Rizzo became the first Portland teammates to hit 20 home runs since the Sea Dogs became a Boston affiliate (and the left-field wall was built) … The fan-voted awards went to Rizzo (MVP), Casey Kelly (Pitcher of the Year), Ray Chang (10th Man) and Jason Rice (Citizen of the Year) Lars Anderson became the sixth Sea Dogs player to start 2010 in Portland and finish in Boston Portland finished its season series with New Hampshire ahead 11-8 The playoffs begin Wednesday with New Hampshire at Trenton, and Harrisburg at Altoona.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]