NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – The difference was command.

Portland Sea Dogs starter Stephen Fife had it and his New Britain Rock Cats counterpart, Kyle Gibson, did not. Fife got ahead in counts and kept hitters off balance. Gibson couldn’t keep Portland hitters from digging in, and he eventually paid the price.

Anthony Rizzo drove in two runs with a home run and a double to back Fife’s strong start Sunday as the Sea Dogs closed out their season series against the Rock Cats with a 4-2 win before 5,067 at New Britain Stadium.

Portland (46-48) gained a split of the four-game series and won 19 of the 27 games played against New Britain (28-67) this season. The Rock Cats managed just four hits in the finale.

For the second consecutive start, Fife, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, allowed no earned runs and two hits in six innings against the Rock Cats. He walked three and struck out five.

He was equally proficient on July 9 at Hadlock Field, when he yielded two unearned runs, struck out five and walked none.


“He’s a very aggressive pitcher, he’s got good stuff and he’s got a real knack for pitching,” Portland Manager Arnie Beyeler said. “His last few times out he’s been pretty impressive. He’s fun to watch. He uses his repertoire and goes after it. He’s a very efficient guy.”

Fife has a 6-2 record. In three starts against New Britain, he is 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA and seven hits allowed in 18 innings. He mixed his pitches well and commanded his two breaking balls with precision.

“Mixing (pitches) has been a big key to success for me this year,” Fife said. “The first two innings I got guys to commit to the fastball. (Catcher Luis Exposito) did a good job mixing in a breaking ball, cutter or a change-up on the first pitch.”

Fife held the Rock Cats without a hit through 4 2/3 innings.

With two out in the fifth, he walked Alexander Soto. Brandon Roberts, playing in his first game since June 17 because of a strained oblique muscle, floated a single into short right field. The next batter — light-hitting 5-foot-3 shortstop Chris Cates — looped a ball in the same vicinity, but Chih-Hsien Chiang had played it perfectly and made the catch.

Gibson, superb through his first four Double-A starts in May, has labored in his last two against Portland. After giving up six runs on seven hits in 41/3 innings in his previous start at Hadlock on July 6, the Twins’ top draft pick in 2009 was touched up for eight hits and four runs in six innings.


“He threw pretty good his first few innings, but it looked like he tired out there,” Beyeler said. “Things started getting up and he fell behind guys a little more than usual.”

The game was scoreless into the fourth, when Rizzo (2 for 4) crushed a 1-0 pitch with the bases empty for his 10th homer of the year.

“A first-pitch fastball was up,” Rizzo said. “The next pitch was a fastball inside and I was ready for it.”

Jorge Padron (2 for 4) began the fifth with a double. He took third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Chiang to give the Sea Dogs a 2-0 lead.

Portland kept hammering away at Gibson in the sixth. Nate Spears led off with a single and scored from first on a one-out double by Exposito. Exposito scored easily when Rizzo split the left-field gap for a double.

The Rock Cats averted the shutout with two runs against reliever Ryne Lawson in the seventh.

A single by Soto and walks to Roberts and Cates loaded the bases with one out. Ben Revere tapped to Rizzo at first and the throw to second was high, permitting Soto and Roberts to score.


Comments are no longer available on this story