It took the St. Paul Saints 97 games into the 2015 American Association season to have their first walk-off win at CHS Field. Now for the second time in three nights the club has performed the feat, this time Anthony Phillips delivering the winning hit over a drawn in infield to give the club the 3-2 win over the New Jersey Jackals. The victory also avenged last night’s ninth inning heroics against the Saints.
This was a great pitching duel for most of the evening between Jackals starter Gabriel Perez and Saints right-hander Dustin Crenshaw. Neither team could score in the first, but New Jersey got two in the top of the second. Crenshaw retired the first two hitters of the inning, but Matt Helms was able to draw a walk to keep the inning alive. That was just the seventh free pass issued by Crenshaw this season in 137 innings pitched. An amazing stat, but the walk came back to haunt him.
D’Vontrey Richardson followed the free pass with a double into left-center field that scored Helms all the way from first. Jared Schlehuber followed that with a single that scored Schlehuber to make it 2-0 New Jersey.
Perez had issued just two walks through the first three innings, but in the fourth the St. Paul Saints finally broke through. Ryan Cavan led off the inning and took three quick balls. He then took two called strikes, the second of which Cavan was not happy with. On the next pitch he took that anger out by ripping a shot that cleared the stadium in right field to make it 2-1.
In the bottom of the fifth Nate Hanson singled into left field to get things started. Anthony Phillips followed with a sacrifice and Willie Argo was hit by a pitch to put two on with one out. Two batters later it was Cavan again, this time dropping a bloop single into right field that score Hanson to tie the game.
That would be all the teams could muster for runs through the first eight innings of the game. Perez left after yielding 4 hits, 3 walks, and 2 earned runs through 5 innings. He struck out 4. Crenshaw only allowed those two second inning runs in 7 innings of work. He allowed 4 hits and a walk to go along with 2 strikeouts.
The Jackals bullpen was perfect for three innings, as Brian Ernst and Francisco Gracesqui combined to retire side in order in the sixth, seventh, and eighth.
In the top of the eighth New Jersey had an opportunity take the lead back, as the club was able to mount a little rally against right-hander Mike Zouzalik. Tony Caldwell doubled down the left field line to get it started and moved to third on a sacrifice. Anthony Gomez was plunked in the back, putting runners at first and third with one out. Zouzalik got A.J. Kirby-Jones to line out to second for the second out, but Zouzalik walked the dangerous Mark Threlkeld to load the bases. Leandro Castro took two quick balls, and the Saints reliever was in danger of walking in the go-ahead run, but two pitches later he got Castro to pop one out to shallow center field to end the threat.
In the bottom of the ninth Hector Nelo took over the hill for New Jersey. Ian Gac greeted Nelo with a single. He was pinch-run for by Sam Maus. Ryan Lashley followed that by laying down a perfect bunt down the third base line. The catcher pounced on it and fired to first, but his throw was high, allowing Lashley to reach. Hanson then laid down a successful bunt that moved both runners into scoring position, bringing Phillips to the plate. He had an at-bat for the ages, fouling off two 0-2 pitches to stay alive, then taking three straight balls, two of which nearly hit him, to make the count full. Nelo’s next pitch Phillips slapped over the drawn in infield and into center field for a base hit, bringing home Maus with the winning run.
Kevin Cravey (1-0) earned the victory for the Saints with a scoreless inning of relief. Nelo (1-2) took the loss.
Cavan was the big star at the plate, going 2-4 with a run and two RBI. He also hit his second home run in a Saints uniform and sixth overall this season.
By Robert Pannier