Alonzo Harris’ Walkoff HR Sends St. Paul Saints to Sixth Straight Win
It’s good to be home again. The St. Paul Saints finally got to see the inside of their own stadium after 14-days and 3,000-plus miles of traveling on the road. The reward was a dramatic walk-off homerun from Alonzo Harris in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave the Saints their sixth straight win. The dramatic victory also eclipsed an amazing comeback by the Sioux City Explorers and saw the two teams nearly coming to blows as the game ended.
It was a dramatic night all the way around. Mark Hamburger started for St. Paul looking for his fifth win of the season and it looked good for him early on when his team scored four in the bottom of the first inning.
Sioux City starter Graham Johnson retired the first batter of the inning but then gave up a long fly ball to Tanner Vavra. The ball looked to have cleared the right-center field fence but, after conferring, the umpires ruled the shot a double. Two batters later, Harris walked to put runners at the corners with two outs. That brought Tony Thomas to the plate looking to extend his hitting streak 25. Thomas grounded the ball down to third and beat out the throw to first on a very close play. That scored Vavra, and the Saints were up 1-0. Next up was Willie Argo, who took the first pitch from Johnson and drilled it deep to center for a three-run homer. That was Argo’s third homer of the season and extended the lead to four.
In the bottom of the second St. Paul added another run. Breland Almadova walked to start the inning and moved to second on a single by Vavra. A fielder’s choice put runners at the corners, and Harris delivered a sacrifice fly to make the score 5-0.
That looked like plenty of support for Hamburger, but the Explorers have no quit in them. In the top of the fourth they got two of those runs back. Nate Samson singled with one out and scored when Tommy Mendonca homered deep over the right field fence to make the score 5-2.
Two innings later Sioux City would tie the game. Mendonca got it started when he singled with one out and he moved to third when Jarek Cunningham doubled. A walk to Matty Johnson loaded the bases, and Tim Cowell followed with a hard, line drive single to right that scored Mendonca. Ralph Henriquez then hit a dribbler out in front of the plate that Saints catcher Aaron Gretz made a heads up play on, grabbing the ball about 10 feet from home plate and then racing to tag the base for the second out. Sioux City needed a big clutch hit with the bases still loaded, and Derrick Robinson came through, hitting a bloop single into right-center that scored two runs to tie the game.
From that point on it was a nail-biter as both teams’ bullpens shut the other team’s offense down. Relievers Cody Wheeler and Ryan Rodebaugh retired all nine batters the two faced from the seventh through the ninth, making sure that their offense had the chance to win the game.
Tayler Scott and Rob Wort pitched equally as well for the Explorers. The two did not allow a hit from the sixth through the eighth innings, keeping the game tied at five.
That setup the dramatic ninth inning that had so many fireworks that you would have thought it was Friday night at CHS Field. Nate Hanson led off the bottom of the ninth and took two close pitches for strikes. Saints third base coach said something that brought the ire of the home plate umpire after strike two, and he ejected Sheldon. Hanson then struck out. That brought Harris to the plate. The first pitch from Wort he drilled over the right field fence for his fifth homer of the year. That gave the Saints the 6-5 victory.
The homerun would have seemed to be the perfect ending to the game, but some Explorers players seemed to take exception to Harris’ helmet slam and slide into home to celebrate the dramatic victory. Words were shared and both benches lingered around home plate before finally the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms. Clearly, tomorrow’s game may have a Jose Bautista-like atmosphere to it.
Harris was thrown into the cleanup spot just before the game started and delivered. The Saints “slugger” was 1-3 with 2-runs scored and 2-RBI. After the game, Manager George Tsamis had nothing but praise for his center fielder.
“Huge hit. That was really exciting and he came up big for us. We had a situation where we needed a guy to hit cleanup today and so we asked Alonzo to do it. He did a really great job and had the biggest hit of the game. You gotta love that.”
Asked about the incident after the game the St. Paul manager only commented that this should not be something that carried over for tomorrow.
Also for the Saints, Vavra was 3-4 with a run scored. Rodebaugh earned the win (1-1).
Cunningham was 3-4 for Sioux City and Mendonca was 2-4 with 2-runs and 2-RBI. Robinson was 3-5 with 2-runs driven in.
Game 2 will be tomorrow night. Robert Coe (3-0, 3.16) goes for the St. Paul Saints looking to keep his record perfect. Game time is 7:05.
By Robert Pannier