Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By MIKE DRAGO Special to the Press Herald
READING, Pa. - It took Xander Bogaerts over a month to hit his first professional home run when he debuted as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2010.
His homerless drought to open this season wasn't quite as long, but he was relieved to see it end Thursday afternoon as he collected a homer, double and two RBI to spark the Portland Sea Dogs to a 7-4 win over the Reading Fightin Phils, completing a three-game sweep at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Bogaerts' homer came in the first inning -- and in his 22nd game.
"I always have a problem getting my first homer, so hopefully that's one of a few more to come," said the 20-year-old shortstop, rated as the top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization in part because of his tremendous power potential.
"I'm happy that I got it out of the way so now I'm a bit more relaxed," said Bogaerts, who homered in his Sea Dogs debut last season Aug. 9 at Akron. "Not that I was thinking about it, but it's always good to get that stress off your shoulders."
The win was the fifth straight for the Eastern Division-leading Sea Dogs (16-9) and gave them their first series sweep in Reading since the franchise debuted in 1994 as a Marlins affiliate.
"That was awesome for us, so we're pretty much good in the lead now," Bogaerts said. "It's always good to get off to a great start. We're in first place now, so hopefully we can keep it going."
Bogaerts, now batting .309, gave the Sea Dogs a 2-0 lead in the third with an RBI double and scored in the three-run fifth that made it 5-0.
Right-hander Anthony Ranaudo sailed through 51/3 innings to improve to 4-0. He had a three-hit shutout going before Tyler Henson hit a one-out homer in the sixth.
That ended the afternoon for Ranaudo after 85 pitches.
The Sea Dogs' lead grew to 7-0 in the sixth, and they needed just about every one of those runs to hang on.
Reliever Keith Couch was touched for a two-run homer by Albert Cartwright in the eighth to make it 7-3.
Daniel Bard, struggling since returning from Boston earlier in the week, put the Fightin Phils right back in it when he walked two of the three batters he faced in the ninth and fired a pair of wild pitches.
Closer Brock Huntzinger came on with runners on second and third, and earned his fifth save by recording the final two outs, but not before a little drama.
The Phils pulled within 7-4 when Miguel Abreu smashed a ball off third baseman Michael Almanzar's glove for an error. That brought up Cartwright, who almost tied the score with a deep foul down the left-field line. Two pitches later, and after another big swing from the heels, Huntzinger got him to ground out to Bogaerts to end the game.
"They did a great job of coming back," Bogaerts said of the Phils, "but we fought in there and we finally got the W. (Cartwright) always looks like he's swinging to go to the fences. No doubt in my mind he was going for one in that last at-bat."
NOTES: Right-hander Kyle Kaminska, who went 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts for the Sea Dogs, was sent to Class A Salem. His spot on the roster was taken by Charlie Haeger, who was sent down from Triple-A Pawtucket, where he went 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two starts. ... First baseman Travis Shaw extended his on-base streak to 24 games with a pair of walks. ... Matt Barnes' 10 strikeouts Wednesday were the most by a Portland pitcher since Billy Buckner fanned 12 on April 24, 2012, against New Britain. ... The Sea Dogs open a six-game homestand tonight against New Britain.