One of the big stories for the St. Paul Saints to this point in the 2018 American Association season has been the performance of starter Vinny Nittoli, who has been absolutely brilliant through his first four starts. However, Monday night the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks seemed to solve the right-hander, scoring five runs in the first five innings on their way to a 5-4 victory. Will Solomon earned the win with Randy McCurry closing it out for his fifth save of the season.
It was scoreless through the first two frames, but the RedHawks would take the lead in the top of the third. Joe DeLuca was hit by a pitch to start the rally before Yhoxian Medina singled. With two on and one out, Brennan Metzger loaded the bases with a shallow base hit to left before Nittoli struck out Maikol Gonzalez for the second out of the inning. It looked like the Saints starter may get out of the frame, but Devan Ahart ended that hope with a single that scored two. Keury De La Cruz followed with a base hit of his own, bringing home a run and it was 3-0.
Fargo-Moorhead extended their lead to four in the top of the fourth. Tommy Mendonca started the inning with a double, but Nittoli looked like he would get out of it once again. He retired the next two batters, but former Saint Tim Colwell brought Mendonca home with a single, the fourth runs scored by the RedHawks with two outs.
St. Paul responded right away in the bottom of the fourth. With one down, Brady Shoemaker singled before Dante Bichette, Jr. doubled, putting two runners in scoring position. That brought Jayce Boyd to the plate, who absolutely crushed a three run homer, his first home run of the season to make it a one run game.
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks would get one of those runs back in the top of the fifth. With two down, De La Cruz hit his fifth home run of the season to make it 5-3. All five runs for the RedHawks came with two outs.
Will Solomon (2-3) had only one tough inning in the contest, going 6.1-innings before he was removed. Travis Ballew came on in the seventh and held the lead, but in the eighth St. Paul would score one run off him. Bichette walked with one out and scored on an RBI triple by Kes Carter.
In the ninth, Randy McCurry came on looking to close it out. He walked two of the first three batters he faced, putting the winning run at first, but then struck out Noah Perio, Jr. before getting Shoemaker to fly out to end the game. That was the fifth save of the season for McCurry.
Keury De La Cruz finished 2-4 with a run and 2-RBI for Fargo-Moorhead. Devan Ahart also drove in 2. Jayce Boyd led the Saints, going 2-4 with a run and 3-RBI. The loss kept Manager George Tsamis at 999 wins.
Game 2 of the series is tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier