There are times in the life of any successful business where it will appear that the decisions that are being made by its chief executive are always “can’t miss.” Whether it is a key acquisition or the promotion of a product, the choice turns up golden in virtually every case. Right now that is how things are looking for St. Paul Saints manager George Tsamis.
The Chairman of the Board of this business-like baseball team has been making the moves and pulling the trigger on some incredibly risky choices of late, but every one of them seems to be putting his team in position to win games, even when they have no business doing so. This club is 29-7, and its leader has not only showed the amazing wisdom to make decisions that pay off, but also to get his team to completely buy into the decisions he is making.
While he has made some unbelievable moves earlier this season that defied rationality for how they succeeded, Sunday afternoon’s contest was an even greater display of how innovative and creative he can be in conjuring up wins.
The game began with one of Tsamis’ top players, Vinny DiFazio, away at a wedding. The club’s backup catcher, Joey Paciorek, was placed on the disabled list prior to the contest, leaving him with no player on his roster with experience playing the position professionally. Tsamis rolled the dice and put outfielder Mike Kvasnicka behind the plate, a position he had played just 32 games at in his professional career.
Jeff Shields started for the Saints, looking for his sixth win of the season, to tie teammate Kramer Sneed atop the leader board for wins in the American Association. He was contested by Tyler Herron for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Both hurlers pitched well in the first two innings. Herron retired six of the seven hitters he faced through the first two frames, only allowing a one-out single to Angelo Songco in the second.
Shields walked three batters through the first two innings, but was able to work himself out of both innings without any damage. In the third, a lead-off walk came back to haunt him. Drew Muren walked to begin the frame and, after stealing second, moved to third on a single by Zac Penprase. A fielder’s choice by Chad Mozingo plated Muren to make it 1-0.
The RedHawks starter continued to have good command through the fourth inning. He allowed a lead-off walk in the third, but then retired the next six batters he faced, keeping his team ahead 1-0. In the fifth, the St. Paul Saints would finally touch him for two runs.
Kvasnicka led off with a single, and moved to second on a base hit by Anthony Phillips. Two batters later Elliot singled, driving both runners home to give the Saints the lead.
The excitement of taking the lead was short-lived, however, as third baseman Steve Nikorak was hit by a pitch in the head following Elliot’s single. Nikorak lay in the batter’s box for some time before being taken away on a stretcher. No word on his condition at the time of this post.
Slightly rattled by seeing his teammate crumpled on the ground, Shields returned to the mound in the fifth. Joe Dunigan doubled for Farg0-Moorhead to begin the inning and scored when Penprase drove him home with a single. That was the second run Shields allowed, and it would be his last. It was time for the Saints starter to prove he was the better man this day, a challenge he was fully up to task.
Neither team scored in the sixth, but in the seventh the St. Paul Saints would retake the lead for good with a completely improbable storyline. Phillips led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Elliot grounded out, allowing Phillips to move to third. That brought up the No. 2 spot in the order; the place Nikorak was batting in. When Nikorak went down the Saints had no additional position players left on the bench, so starting pitcher Robert Coe took to the field to play a position he had not played before, ever. He worked the count full before lashing a single into right field for his first professional hit to make it 3-2. Willie Argo followed with a double bringing Coe all the way in front first and it was 4-2.
In the top of the eighth Angelo Songco led the inning off with a double, bringing up Kvasnicka, the other fish out of water. He already had two hits to that point, but was not done yet. He took a 1-0 offering and drilled it over the left field fence for a two-run homer. That made the score 6-2, the eventual final.
Shields (6-0) earned the victory by allowing 3 hits, 5 walks and 2 runs in 7 innings pitched. He also struck out four. That is the right-handers seventh straight win dating back to last season, and lowered his ERA to 3.20. Mike Zouzalik finished out the game, pitching two perfect innings of relief. The righty has only been scored upon in three of his 18 appearances this season.
Kvasnicka came a triple short of hitting for the cycle. He was 3-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBI. His home run was his fifth of the season. Phillips was 2-3 with 2 runs scored and Songco was 2-4 with a run.
By Robert Pannier