Mark Hamburger Grounds RailCats Bats in St. Paul Saints 8–3 Win
It was opening night for the St. Paul Saints, but the results looked more like the Minnesota Twins were winning than the professional team to their east. Former Twin prospect Mark Hamburger hamstrung the Gary Southshore RailCats for seven innings, and his former teammate at AAA-Rochester, Nate Hanson, started all three rallies for the Saints as they downed the visitors 8-3.
Hamburger and Gary starter Charle Rosario were very impressive through the first three innings. The RailCats managed just one hit through the first three frames, while the Saints managed just two walks.
It was looking like this was going to be a real pitchers’ duel, but in the fourth St. Paul jumped out to a four-run lead. Hanson started the rally with a single to left field and shortstop Mike Gilmartin walked to put two on with no one out. Tanner Vavra then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and Tony Caldwell lined a ball that hit off the third baseman’s glove with everyone being safe. That brought Alonzo Harris to the plate, and he delivered with a single to right-center field that scored both Hanson and Gilmartin, moving Caldwell to third.
Manager George Tsamis then pulled a few moves out of the RailCats playbook. Breland Almadova dropped a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that he beat out for single. That scored Caldwell and moved Harris to second. With Willie Argo at the plate and Harris taking a big lead off of second, RailCats catcher Jaime Del Valle decided to throw behind the runner, but Harris alertly broke for third and took the stolen base uncontested. Willie Argo then laid down a squeeze bunt to score Harris and it was 4-0 Saints.
In the top of the fifth Gary got one of those runs back. Tillman Pugh walked to start the frame against Hamburger and moved to second on a single by Del Valle. Hamburger then struck out the next two batters and looked like he was going to get out of the inning unscathed, but Cameron Newell delivered a clutch hit into right field that scored Pugh to make it 4-1.
In the bottom half of the inning St. Paul responded right away. It would be Hanson who got the rally started again when he singled to left field with one out. The next batter was newcomer Mike Gilmartin who ripped a shot over the right field wall for his first homer in a Saints uniform. That made the score 6-1.
In the seventh St. Paul would extend the lead even further. With Alex Gunn on the mound, he was able to retire the first two batters of the inning, but Hanson kept the inning alive with a single to left-center. Gilmartin was the next hitter and he doubled to left-center to put both runners into scoring position. That brought Tanner Vavra to the plate looking to deliver a huge two-out hit and that is just what he did, singling into center to score both runners and extend the lead to 8-1.
Hamburger (1-0) left after seven innings. He allowed just 3-hits and 1-run. He allowed one walk while striking five. It was a brilliant return for the right-hander who pitched for the Saints in 2013.
“I always try to be in the moment,” Hamburger explained of his performance. “I heard a stat that the guys who followed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa that season they were in the big homerun chase had the best seasons of their lives, because the pitchers put so much pressure on trying to get Mark and Sammy out that the guy afterwards got all the hits. So, I try not to approach one batter as better than the others. I think if you treat them all the same and make the best pitch you are going to have a good outcome.”
In the eighth, the RailCats were able to get two runs back against another former Twins player, LHP Caleb Thielbar. Cameron Newell got the rally started by drawing a lead-off walk, and pinch-hitter Matt Hibbert followed with a single to put two on with no one out. Two batters later Jeremy Hamilton singled to load the bases, and Jose Sermo singled to score Newell. A sacrifice fly by Pugh brought home Hibbart to make it 8-3, and that would be the final score.
Hanson finished 3-4 and was the lead run in each inning where the St. Paul Saints scored. Gilmartin had a huge night as well, going 2-2 with a double, home run, three runs scored and two-RBI. He also walked twice.
The two teams will continue their four-game set to open the season tomorrow night. The RailCats will send LHP Eric Eadington to the hill. The St. Paul Saints counter with RHP Robert Coe who won 12 games for the team last season. Game time is 7:05.
By Robert Pannier