Fourteen in a row is pretty amazing. That is how many consecutive series the St. Paul Saints have won to start the 2015 American Association season after taking three of four games from the Ottawa Champions. This night it was 5-3 victory that kept another impressive run alive. Starter Jeff Shields remained undefeated, winning all seven of his decisions this season.
Shields was opposed by former big leaguer Wilmer Font, who pitched well himself. The Saints got on the board against the big right-hander in the bottom of the first when catcher Vinny DiFazio worked the count full, then crushed a Font offering deep over the left field fence for his team leading ninth home run of the season.
In the top of the third the Champions tied the score. Chris Winder doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a bunt by Daniel Bick. Albert Cartwright hit a fly ball to left field that scored Winder and the game was tied at one.
The game remained a pitchers’ duel into the fifth, as both Shields and Font were pitching well. Excluding the third inning, the St. Paul Saints starter had been dominate through the other four frames, yielding just a single and walk.
In the bottom of the fifth his team rewarded his outstanding performance by putting him back on top. Dan Kaczrowski reached on a hit by pitch and moved to second on a base hit by Willie Argo. DiFazio was walked to load the bases, and a wild pitch brought Kaczrowski home to give the Saints a 2-1 lead.
Ottawa tied the game up in the top half of the sixth. Sebastien Boucher reached on an error and moved to second on a walk to Mike Schwartz. Bryce Massanari then lined a shot to right field that Mike Kvasnicka caught and threw to first attempting to double up Schwartz, but the ball went wild and both runners moved up. Jon Talley followed by grounding out to score Boucher to tie the game.
Some teams might have gotten discouraged by giving up a lead like that right away, but this is the business-like St. Paul Saints, and in business for every move there is a counter-move. The counter-move for the Saints was that they put a run right back up in the bottom half of the sixth.
Laetten Galbraith relieved Font and gave up a single to Angelo Songco to begin the inning. Songco moved to second on a ground ball by Kvasnicka and reached third when Joey Paciorek singled up the middle. Anthony Phillips brought Songco home with a sacrifice fly and St. Paul was back on top.
In the bottom of the seventh the home club extended their lead. Argo singled and stole second base, hit 1oth of the year. Galbraith retired the next two batters, but then intentionally walked the incredibly hot Angelo Songco. That brought Kvasnicka to the plate, who lined a deep fly ball over the center fielder’s head and in for a double. Both runners came around to score to make it 5-2.
In the eighth the Champions got a run back but that was as close as they would get. In the ninth, the Saints turned to Ryan Rodebaugh to close it out. He struck out two of the three batters he faced for his 11th save of the season.
Shields moved his record to 7-0 with 7 outstanding innings of work. The right-hander allowed 5 hits, 3 walks and 2 runs, just one of which was earned. He struck out 3. Shields threw 104 pitches in winning his eighth straight game leading back to last season, 65 of which were strikes.
Songco remained hot, going 2-3 with 2 runs and a walk. He is 9-11 in his last three games. Argo went 2-3 with a run and 2 walks. Paciorek had 3 hits in 4 trips to the plate.
By Robert Pannier