Lincoln Saltdogs Give Saints Jeff Shields First Loss of Season, 8-2
The St. Paul Saints have spent a majority of this season steamrolling over any team that has gotten in their path. That is not true of the Lincoln Saltdogs, who took their second straight game from the North Division leaders to even the season series at three apiece.
The Saltdogs made a statement right off the bat when CF Matt Forgatch lined a hard shot to the right-center field gap and ran hard into the third base for a stand up triple. That broke an 0-9 slump the center fielder had been in, but he was not done. Eddie Young’s ground ball to short plated Forgatch and it was quickly 1-0.
Jeff Shields entered the game 9-0 for the St. Paul Saints, and had a 10-game winning streak dating back to last season, but he was going to struggle early against the team from Lincoln. In the second the Saltdogs got right back on the scoreboard. Mike Gilmartin lined a single up the middle to begin the inning and Brian Joynt followed with a single that moved Gilmartin to third. Jeremy Hamilton grounded into a double-play, but Gilmartin scored and it was 2-0.
In the third the visitors would extend their lead to three. Forgatch opened the inning with his second straight extra-base hit, lining a double into left field. Two batters later Forgatch moved to third on a ground out, and came home to score when Curt Smith delivered a clutch two-out single that brought home Forgatch.
While Shields was struggling early on, Lincoln starter Shairon Martis was holding the vaunted St. Paul Saints offense down. Martis retired the first nine hitters of the game, and seemed to be getting stronger through his first trip through the Saints batting order, but in the fourth St. Paul was finally able to put a little pressure on the Lincoln starter.
Alonzo Harris began the inning by drilling a ball off the center field wall for a double. Two batters later Vinny DiFazio was hit by a pitch, and Ian Gac followed with a single that scored Harris to cut the Lincoln lead to two. A walk to Angelo Songco loaded the bases, and this had all the makings of a classic Saints big inning, but Martis stepped it up, striking out the next batters to end the inning and keep the game at 3-1.
In the fifth Martis suffered an injury after his second pitch of the inning and had to be replaced. Manager Ken Oberkfell called upon Zach Westcott, who did an outstanding job for the visitors. He found himself in a bit of trouble right off, however.
Dan Kaczrowski greeted the new Lincoln pitcher with a single to left field and Mitch Elliot drew a walk to put two runners on with no one out. Wescott remained poised however, striking out the side to end the inning. That made it five straight Saints hitters retired by strikeouts, and left five men stranded over the two innings.
After struggling early in the game, Shields turned it around. Over the next five innings the right-hander allowed just three hits and a walk, and one of those runners was erased by a double-play. It was an outstanding demonstration of how the Saints starter keeps his club in games.
On virtually any other night, if a St. Paul starter had given up three runs, that starter was definitely going to walk away with a win, but on this night the Saltdogs bullpen was just too good. Westcott allowed a two-out hit in the sixth, but struck out two more batters before getting the final out of the inning on a fly ball.
In the seventh the Saints were able to cut the deficit to just a single run. Kaczrowski began the inning by trying to beat out a bunt for a single. Westcott retrieved the ball, but his throw to first was in the dirt and the St. Paul second baseman reached on the error. Two hitters later Harris singled and that was it for Westcott.
Lincoln turned to Ryan Fennell who gave up a two out single to Vinny DiFazio that brought home Mitch Elliot to make it 3-2. Fennell struck out Ian Gac to the end the inning and keep Lincoln on top.
Connor Spink allowed a walk in the eighth, and the Saltdogs were prepared to turn to Marshall Schuler to close out the game for the second straight night. His services would not be needed, however, as his team blew the game open in the top of the ninth.
Steven Tinoco singled to lead-off the inning against Mikey Mehlich. He later stole second and Joynt walked to put runners on first and second with one out. Manager George Tsamis turned to Dylan Chavez to end the threat, and he had been nearly untouchable in this role all season long. On this night it would be a different story.
Hamilton doubled to score Tinoco and move Joynt to third, and Aaron Payne was hit by a pitch to load the bases. That brought Forgatch to the plate, who hit a deep fly ball to center field that Harris could not make a play on. All three runners came around to score and Forgatch raced into third with his second triple of the game.
It was an absolutely amazing game for the Lincoln Saltdogs center fielder. He had entered the contest in a little slump, but ended that with a 3-5 day that included 3 runs scored, 3 RBI, and 3 extra-base hits. He also scored the final run of the game on a wild pitch that made the score 8-2.
Westcott (3-1) earned the victory in relief. He pitched 2.1 outstanding innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out 3. Shields (9-1) took the tough loss, despite pitching extremely well. He allowed 8 hit, 3 runs and a walk in 8 innings, while striking out 7.
After the game Tsamis tipped his cap to the Saltdogs performance. “They got the big hits when they needed them. They won that game. There is no taking anything from them. They just won the game.”
These two teams will square off Sunday night in the finale of this four-game series. The Saltdogs look to be the first team to win a season series against the St. Paul Saints
By Robert Pannier