Defense Plays Key Role in St. Paul Saints 6-1 Win
Defense played a key role in Saturday night’s 6-1 victory for the St. Paul Saints over the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. It wasn’t just that the Saints got several key defensive plays to support the outstanding work of their pitching staff on this night. It was also that the RedHawks made a couple of key miscues that opened the door for the Saints to win their third straight game to open the season.
Kramer Sneed started for the St. Paul Saints, while Austin Kirk took the ball for the RedHawks. Both lefties pitched extremely well through the first five innings, keeping nothing but zeros across the scoreboard. Both pitchers got some help from their defense to aid in keeping the game a scoreless tie. In the first Saints left fielder Willie Argo ran down a Stefan Gartrell fly ball in left-center field that had triple written all over it, making a great catch at the warning track. After making the diving catch he quickly got up and threw to first to double up the runner.
In the fourth St. Paul looked like they were going to take the lead when Willie Argo walked to lead off the inning and Ian Gac followed with a single that moved Argo to third. One out later Michael Antonio hit a fly ball to left field that Ryan Matthews made a nice catch on. He then fired home and nailed the speedy Argo at the plate to keep the score tied at zero.
While both pitchers were the recipient of nice plays, they were also both doing their job to keep runners off the base paths. Sneed allowed a walk in each of the first two innings, and a double to lead off the third. Then the lefty retired ten straight hitters before hitting Frank Salerno with one out in the sixth. Zach Penprase followed with a single that moved Salerno to third. Two batters later super slugger Joe Dunigan came to the plate. Saints manager George Tsamis had instituted a shift each time Dunigan came to the plate, moving the shortstop to the right-side of the diamond. The shift had worked to perfection in the first two games, but Dunigan made the Saints pay in this case, lining the Sneed offering through the spot vacated by the shortstop to make it 1-0.
The excitement at taking the lead did not have much time to sink in before that thought was ripped from the RedHawks consciousness. Argo and Gac began the bottom of the sixth with back-to-back walks, bring Mike Kvansnicka to the plate. He laid down a perfect bunt, leaving the only play at first, however the third baseman’s throw was in the dirt and wide, rolling into the foul territory in right field and allowing Argo to score. Dunigan reached the ball, but dropped it out of his glove and it rolled away. That allowed Gac to score and Kvansnicka to reach second. Three batters later Ty Kelley took over for Kirk, and the first hitter he faced was Steve Nikorak. The first pitch Kelley threw Nikorak deposited over the left field fence for a two-run home run and a 4-1 Saints lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, the St. Paul Saints would add two more runs. Mike Mason relieved and recorded the first two outs, including getting super star slugger Ian Gac out to begin the inning. He could not get the third out though, and quickly found himself in trouble. Antonio doubled and Vince DiFazio followed with a single that scored Antonio. A wild pitch moved the Saints catcher to second and Nikorak followed with a double to the alley in right field that scored DiFazio.
That was plenty enough runs for the Saints bullpen, which had pitched three scoreless innings after Sneed’s departure. Dylan Chavez, Ryan Rodebaugh, and Alex Sogard each pitched a scoreless inning.
Sneed (1-0) earned his first win of the season. He pitched 6 outstanding innings, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run, while striking out 3. The lefty threw 88 pitches on the night, 52 of which were strikes.
Kirk (0-1) had pitched well also, but was the recipient of some bad defense that was his downfall. The left-hander went 5.2 innings, allowing 3 hits and 5 walks. Of the 3 runs that scored against him, only one was earned. He fanned six.
The RedHawks only recorded five hits on the night, while the Saints got just seven. Nikorak had the biggest day, going 2-4 with a run and 3 RBI.
Tomorrow the St. Paul Saints go for the sweep of their four-game series. Jeff Shields heads to the mound for the home team, against Ryan Blough. Game time is 5:05.
By Robert Pannier