Lang Comes Back to Haunt Ex-Mates as Saints Grab 2-0 Lead
Michael Lang continued his impressive playoff run on Thursday night, driving in two, including the game winner as the St. Paul Saints moved just one game away from winning their first championship since 2004 with a 3-2 victory over the Sioux City Explorers. St. Paul battled back from a 2-0 deficit to earn the victory. Chris Baker scored two runs for the Saints. The Sioux City Explorers got the kind of start they were looking for. In the bottom of the first, Eddie Medina retired Kyle Wren but Drew Stankiewicz drilled a 1-0 pitch the opposite way for a homerun. It was his first of the post-season.
An inning later, the longball would hurt Medina again. Jose Sermo led off the inning by hitting a 1-0 pitch to almost the same place as Stankiewicz’s shot to make it a two run lead.
Pete Tago took that early lead and rode it through the first four innings. The right-hander was brilliant, allowing a hit in the first and one in the fourth, as a second inning walk was the only runners to reach early on. He struck out six through the first four frames, including two in the first, second, and fourth innings.
However, in the fifth, the St. Paul Saints would finally get to the Explorers starter. Chesny Young walked to start the frame. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored when Chris Baker singled up the middle. A ground out moved Baker to second and he would come around to score when Michael Lang drilled a double down the line in right. That tied the score at two.
After giving up the two early homers, Medina was impressive. The right-hander struck out one batter in each of the first three innings but found himself in some serious trouble in the fourth. After striking out Sermo to start the frame, Medina gave up back-to-back hits to Dexture McCall and Dylan Kelly. After a walk to Sebastian Zawada, the bases were loaded and Sioux City was looking like they were going to blow this game open. However, Medina quickly got ahead of Adam Sasser before striking him out. He then blew away Kyle Wren to end the threat, striking out the side in the frame.
Medina would give up a leadoff double in the fifth, then issued a two out walk, but struck out two batters in the inning to strand five runners combined over these two frames.
Pete Tago came out after six. The right-hander allowed five hits, three walks and two earned runs. He finished with nine strikeouts. Tyler Falwell came on in the seventh and continued to bring the heat, striking out two in the frame.
Medina returned for the seventh and began the inning by walking Wren. That would be it for the Saints starter. Medina allowed seven hits and three walks while also striking out nine. However, he left with a runner on first.
Ken Frosch came on and got ahead of Stankiewicz before striking him out, but not before a wild pitch allowed Wren to move to second. Then, after falling behind 2-0, he opted to walk Nate Samson. Frosch then struck out Jeremy Hazelbaker before his night was over.
That brought a call to the bullpen, as Karch Kowalczyk came on. He came on to face Sermo and, on the second pitch, the Explorers went for the double steal. That led St. Paul to put Sermo on, bringing McCall to the plate. He grounded a ball toward the hole between first and second, but Josh Allen made a diving play to his left to smother the ball, throwing to first just in time to beat McCall to stand all three runners.
In the bottom of the eighth, a base running blunder cost Sioux City a chance at a run. With two down, Sasser singled. He moved to second on a wild pitch. Wren followed by singling into right field. The ball was not hit deep, however. Lang’s throw to the plate held Sasser, but Wren tried to go for second, and he was thrown out to end the inning.
That proved to be critical as the St. Paul Saints would take their first lead of the game in the top of the ninth. Baker was hit by a Fallwell pitch to start the inning and he moved to second on a sacrifice. After Dan Motl struck out, Lang doubled to the wall in left field, easily scoring Baker to put St. Paul on top, 3-2.
Sioux City tried to battle back in the ninth against Saints closer Tanner Kiest. Stankiewicz walked to start the inning, but was erased on a double-play, the third the Explorers hit into on the night. Hazelbaker then drew a walk, bringing Sermo to the plate. He got ahead 2-1 before striking out to end the game.
Michael Lang finished 2-5 with two RBI and Chris Baker was 1-3 with two runs and an RBI. Karch Kowalcyzk earned the victory with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief. Tanner Kiest earned the save.
The series shifts to St. Paul on Saturday night with the Saints leading the series 2-0. Taylor Jordan (6-10, 4.48) will go for the Explorers. He will be opposed by Ryan Zimmerman (7-3, 4.16). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier