Portland bullpen proves too much for Fisher CatsBy ALLEN LESSELS
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 29. 2013 11:29PM
Portland reliever Rafael Perez got A.J. Jimenez – finally – to pop out to shortstop Heiker Meneses and the Sea Dogs finished off the Fisher Cats, 7-5, on Saturday night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
Jimenez had fouled off five two-strike pitches before Perez retired him in a game that featured dueling comebacks and impressive Portland relief pitching.
"Perez did a really good job, especially on that last at-bat," said Portland manager Kevin Boles. "That was a battle between those guys and he's a real good hitter. Perez has got that calm mound presence."
The Fisher Cats grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first inning off Portland starter Matt Barnes, a No. 1 Red Sox draft pick, and later rallied to go back up 5-4 with a pair of runs in the sixth inning.
It wasn't enough.
"It was more back than forth for us," said Fisher Cat manager Gary Allenson. "We took an early lead off a pretty god pitcher and did a pretty good job against him, he's got a pretty good arm. But we just couldn't hold the Sea Dogs tonight. We gave them a couple too many opportunities."
The Sea Dogs, who took Friday night's game 5-1, have won consecutive games for only the second time since May 24.
They improved to 40-38 and the Fisher Cats fell to 39-42.
Portland snapped New Hampshire's six-game winning streak on Friday night and leads this series two games to one.
The teams close it out with a Sunday afternoon game at 1:35.
The Sea Dogs made the most of their hits – they had eight and five were doubles – and got another impressive game from catcher Christian Vazquez. He twice threw out runners trying to steal.
"I love that," Vazquez said. "It makes the pitcher comfortable on the mound, throwing guys out."
His second caught-stealing helped hold down a sixth-inning Fisher Cat rally.
"The throws he made were phenomenal," Boles said. "He really shortened their game. It shortens up their leads at the bases. He definitely was a weapon behind the plate tonight."
Barnes had his problems early and the Fisher Cats got to him for three runs on four hits - Adam Loewen had a leadoff single, A.J. Jimenez an RBI single, Brad Glenn a two-run home run and Kevin Nolan a double – in the bottom of the first inning.
Boles liked the way Barnes settled down after that.
The Sea Dogs got one back off Deck McGuire, a Toronto first-round draft choice, in the top of the second.
Tony Thomas walked on four pitches to lead off and went to third on Michael Almanzar's double. Thomas scored on a sacrifice fly to center by J.C. Linares. Travis Shaw and Heiker Meneses doubled to right center in the Portland fifth to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Sea Dogs jumped in front 4-3 on a Tony Thomas two-run homer to left field in the sixth inning.
The Fisher Cats took the lead right back in the bottom of the inning
Kevin Nolan reached when Meneses bobbled his grounder to short. Ryan Schimpf followed with a homer to right center. Brian Van Kirk singled to right and that was it for Barnes.
Will Latimer came on and got out of the inning with a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play - when Vazquez gunned down Van Kirk trying to steal second – and another strikeout.
Latimer struck out all three batters he faced in the seventh, too, and got the win.
"He was terrific," Boles said.
McGuire went six an two-thirds innings for the Fisher Cats and allowed five hits, and four earned runs an struck out eight.
Portland scored two runs off reliever Evan Crawford go up 6-5 in the top of the eighth. Vazquez scored on a Tony Thomas fielder's choice and Garin Cecchini, who had doubled, came across when Linares dropped a double down the left field line.
The Sea Dogs earned a little cushion when Cecchini singled home Meneses with two outs in the ninth to make it 7-5.
Perez made sure that's how it ended.