The St. Paul Saints continued their historic opening to the season Monday night, winning their 10th game in 11 opportunities. This is the best start in the franchise’s 23 year history, and their 6-1 record on this nine-game road swing through Texas is already adding to the historic numbers.
The Saints have found new heroes each and every time out, and on this night it was battery mates Vince DiFazio and Dustin Crenshaw who were the difference makers in this game. The catcher delivered a big hit late and the pitcher continued his hot start as the Saints won 7-1.
Both Crenshaw and Grand Prairie AirHogs starter Danny Gutierrez allowed a run in the first inning. Gutierrez struck out the first two St. Paul hitters. On a 1-2 pitch, Willie Argo homered over the left field wall to give the Saints a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the first, Crenshaw also gave up his run with two outs. John Weber walked and Victor Diaz followed with a single. Zane Chavez took an 0-2 pitch from Crenshaw and doubled to tie the game.
From there the two starters took command of the game. Neither allowed a run over the next four innings. Following the home run, the AirHogs starter retired 12 of the next 13 batters. The only hit he allowed was a lead-off hit to Steve Nikorak, but he was erased by a double-play.
Creshaw also retired 12 of the next 13 hitters after allowing the run. His only hit allowed came in the fourth when Victor Ferrante doubled to the wall in left field with two outs. Ferrante tried to stretch the hit into a triple, but a perfect relay of Argo to shortstop Anthony Phillips to Nikorak nailed Ferrante and ended the inning.
In the sixth the St. Paul Saints took the lead. In the top of the sixth Nikorak singled. He stole second and advanced to third on an error on the throw. A base hit by Alonzo Harris brought Nikorak home and St. Paul had the 2-1 lead.
Crenshaw continued his mastery over Grand Prairie, retiring the side in order in the sixth and eighth innings. He allowed two hits in the seventh, but got a double-play grounder to end the threat. The right-hander pitched 8 innings, allowing 5 hits and a walk, while striking out five. The win by Crenshaw (3-0) kept him undefeated.
Gutierrez’s night ended after seven. He allowed just 4 hits to the Saints, but the two-runs were enough to cost him the game. He also struck out 11 St. Paul hitters.
In the ninth the AirHogs turned to Dakota Watts to keep the game close, but the St. Paul Saints hitters jumped all over him. Sam Maus reached base on a hit by pitch with one out, and two batters later Ian Gac walked to put runners and first and second with two outs. Mike Kvansnicka stepped to the plate and battled Watts to stay alive, fouling off six straight pitches. On the 10th pitch, Kvasnicka singled to score Maus. Angelo Songco followed with a single that scored Gac, and that brought Crenshaw’s battery mate to the plate. DiFazio had been hitless in his first three at-bats, but in the ninth inning opportunity DiFazio lined a single to center field that was misplayed by the center fielder. The ball rolled to the wall and DiFazio came all the way around to score. That made the score 7-1, and put the game completely out of reach.
Mike Zouzalik finished the game for the Saints. It was his fifth appearance of the season and he has yet to be scored upon.
These two teams continue their series Tuesday night. LHP Kramer Sneed (1-0, 2.08) will get the start for the St. Paul Saints, while Jason Jarvis (0-1, 8.10) gets the call for Grand Prairie. Game time is 7:05 local time.
By Robert Pannier