Maybe the Pawtucket Red Sox lost the battle Friday night in their home opener against the Leigh Valley Iron Pigs.

But because knuckleballer Charlie Zink and reliever Billy Traber
gave them nine innings, the PawSox may win the war — the war being the
remainder of a six-game homestand.

The Iron Pigs eked out a 4-3 victory before an all-time McCoy
Stadium-record crowd of 11, 892 but the PawSox’ situation is more
encouraging given the efforts of Zink and Traber.

Here’s why. Clay Buchholz originally was scheduled to start
Friday’s’ game but was scratched because of a strained hamstring
muscle. And Devern Hansack, who’s normally a starter but has been
pitching long relief this season, is on the disabled list with a
dislocated shoulder.

As a result, manager Ron Johnson must resort to a “bullpen game”
today meaning he’ll have to piece things together with his relievers.

If either Zink or Traber imploded Friday, the PawSox’ bullpen would have been a disaster.

“We hate to lose ball games but we were playing to win this game
in nine innings,” said Johnson. “Charlie did a fantastic job. I really
was pleased with his stuff tonight. He had the one inning where he lost
command and that was the third (when the Iron Pigs scored two runs on
two hits and three hit batters).  “What was good to see was he stayed
in and all of a sudden he got it back and did a great job for us. He
went six.”

Zink (0-2), who struggled at times with his command, allowed
four runs on only four hits but walked three in six innings.

The Iron Pigs scored what proved to be the decisive runs in the
fifth on Andy Tracy’s two-run homer. But they also stranded five
runners during Zink’s stint otherwise the game could have been over

Traber, meanwhile, was nothing short of outstanding — especially
when compared with his pitching last season with the Yankees.

In three innings Friday, the left-hander allowed one hit, walked
nobody and fanned three. And he threw 25 of 38 pitches for strikes.

Traber’s performance was the polar opposite of the ones he
delivered last year in the Bronx when, in 19 relief appearances, he
posted a bloated 7.02 ERA and allowed 23 hits in 16 2/3 innings.

“We’ve got a bullpen game (Saturday) and (Marcus) McBeth is
going to start but he’s probably going to throw only two innings,” said
Johnson. “So, we had to fill this game.

“These guys (Zink and Traber) gave us opportunities to win this game. We just couldn’t get it done offensively.”

Traber seldom gave the Yankees opportunities to win games last
season, which was one reason why he was a frequent passenger on the
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre-New York shuttle.

“Every time he’s gotten the ball he’s done what a reliever’s
supposed to do,” said Johnson. “He comes in and gets us off the field
without giving up runs. He’s done a really nice job.

“If we knew what held back certain guys in certain situations,
we could get a formula for helping certain people like (Traber).
There’s time frames and time tables that develop. There’s guys that
click at certain times. Billy’s pitched a long time. He’s a veteran.
He’s been in the big leagues. He knows what he needs to do.

“The only thing I can say about this guy in my experience with
him here is he’s a tremendous person,” continued Johnson. “He’s a
really good teammate and for me he’s been a really good bullpen guy
because as a manager I’ve put him in a game and he’s gotten my team off
the field.”