The biggest series of the year for both the Gary Southshore RailCats and St. Paul Saints got underway at CHS Field on Friday night as the two playoff contenders were looking to make a statement that would vault one closer to the playoffs while crushing the hopes of the other. Thanks to seven outstanding innings from Eddie Medina and two home runs from his offense, the Saints jumped out to a 7-5 victory before hanging on to win, 7-5. That moved St. Paul ahead of Fargo-Moorhead in the standings and one game behind Gary for first in the North Division.
After a scoreless first inning, the St. Paul Saints took the lead with four runs in the bottom of the second. Brady Shoemaker led off the inning with a home run deep over the wall in right-center for his eighth of the year. Two batters later, Dante Bichette, Jr. singled to left and he moved to second when Nathaniel Maggio walked. Justin O’Conner followed with a single up the middle that scored Bichette to extend the lead to two. Next up was Joey Wong, who hit a flare into left that dropped in for a single bringing home Maggio, and O’Conner came home when Max Murphy hit into what looked like a sure inning-ending double-play, but the relay throw from the shortstop to first was about five feet wide of the bag, allowing the runner to come home on the error to extend the lead to 4-0.
Eddie Medina started for St. Paul and had a little trouble in the first when he gave up a hit and a walk, but struck out Ronnie Mitchell to end the threat. He allowed just one hit over the next two frames, but the RailCats would finally tally a run in the fourth. Colin Willis led off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch. A ground ball moved him to third and he scored when Wilfredo Gimenez singled into left field to make it 4-1.
In the fifth, Gary Southshore threatened to take the lead away from St. Paul. Cole Fabio singled and Alex Crosby walked to begin the inning. Medina retired the next two batters, but a walk to Willis loaded the bases, bringing Mitchell to the plate once again. He quickly fell behind 0-2 before hitting a ball to left that Burt Reynolds caught to end the inning.
The Saints rewarded their starter for getting out of the jam in the bottom half of the inning. Wong led off with a single and scored when Max Murphy blasted his fourth homer of the year. That gave St. Paul a 6-1 lead.
An inning later, the St. Paul Saints would add an insurance run. Bichette walked to start the inning and moved to second on a Maggio single. Wong walked two batters later and Murphy brought home Bichette on a sacrifice fly. It was the third run driven in by Murphy in the contest.
Eddie Medina (7-4) came out after seven, allowing 6-hits and a run. The righty walked 3 and struck out a season high 10. The Saints ace earned his third win in his last four decisions.
Ken Frosch came in for the eighth and gave up two straight singles before Mike Devine took over. He induced a double-play and then struck out Reggie Wilson to end the inning and extend his scoreless innings streak to 23.0.
However, in the ninth, the RailCats would rally. Back-to-back singles by Andy DeJesus and Fabio started the inning and DeJesus came home on a ground out to make it 7-2. After Garrett Copeland walked, Randy Santiesteban singled into left field, bringing Fabio home. A walk to Willis loaded the bases and that would be it for Devine.
Andrew Thome relieved and Mitchell finally came through in a big situation, singling to center to drive home two and turn this into a two run game. Thome settled in, however, getting Gimenez to fly out before striking out Wilson to end the game. That gave him his third save of the year.
Max Murphy finished 1-3 with a run and 3-RBI for St. Paul. Brady Shoemaker was 2-4 with a run and an RBI. Joey Wong was 2-2 with a a run and an RB I. Ronnie Mitchell drove in two for Gary and Colin Willis was a perfect 2-2 with a run scored.
Game 2 of this four-game set is scheduled for Friday night. Jeff McKenzie (4-8, 4.33) will go for the RailCats. He will be opposed by Chris Nunn (4-1, 3.06). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier