With Alonzo Harris heading to the disabled list with an injury to his foot, outfielder Mike Kvasnicka came off the disabled list and helped to lead the St. Paul Saints to a 9-3 win over the Gary Southshore RailCats. The run-support backed the outstanding start of Dustin Crenshaw, who grabbed his league leading fifth win on the night.
The RailCats had to feel pretty good coming off their 11-inning win the night before, and continued their momentum into Sunday’s game by grabbing a quick lead in the first inning against Crenshaw. The right-hander, who pitched for Gary last season, gave up a lead-off single to Roger Bernal then watched Bernal move to second when Zac Mitchell reached on an error. Drew Martinez laid down a perfect bunt to put both runners into scoring position, but this is the kind of situation that the Saints brought Crenshaw to St. Paul for. The big right-hander got J.D. Pulfer to fly out to right field. The sacrifice fly scored Bernal and the Saints starter got Tillman Pugh to foul out to end the inning.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the home half of the first, the St. Paul Saints quickly came to the aid of their starter, plating three runs on four hits. Mitch Elliot struck out to begin the inning, and then Steve Nikorak drilled a Rene Solis offering deep over the left field wall to tie the game. That was Nikorak’s second home run of the season. Vinny DiFazio followed the gopher ball with a double, and Ian Gac brought DiFazio home with a two-run homer over the right-center field fence. The opposite field home run was Gac’s third round-tripper of the season, and staked Crenshaw to the 3-1 lead.
Neither team was able to score in the second, but in third St. Paul extended their lead to three. Gac walked with one out and moved to second when Angelo Songco drew a walk. Two batters later Joey Paciorek lined a base hit to center bringing home Gac. The two-runs scored gave the Saints slugger 30 runs scored so far this year, tops in the American Association.
In the fourth St. Paul added another insurance run. Sam Maus, who returned to the lineup after sitting out a few days with a hand injury, singled to begin the inning and scored when Steve Nikorak doubled to bring him all the way around from first.
In the fifth it would be the long ball that would bring home two more runs. With one out, Kvasnicka connected for his first home run of the season. Three pitches later Joey Paciorek hit his second home run of the season. As high-octane as the Saints offense has been this year, this was the first time that the team had two players go back-to-back with home runs.
In the top of the sixth Pugh got one of the runs back. With one out, the Gary left fielder took a Crenshaw pitch over the left field fence to make it 7-2. That broke a string of seven unanswered runs St. Paul had scored and pulled the RailCats within five. They would get no closer.
In the bottom half of the inning the Saints responded with two more runs of their own. Elliot singled and moved to second on a walk to Nikorak. DiFazio singled to load the bases and Gac followed with an RBI sacrifice fly that scored Elliot. That made the Saints slugger 2-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBI. Two batters later Kvasnicka’s ground ball out scored Nikorak to make it 9-2.
The Gary Southshore RailCats added a meaningless run in the eighth. Drew Martinez reached on an error and scored on a double by Pulfer. That would be the last run scored in the 9-3 final.
Crenshaw (5-1) received the win. The right-hander went 7, allowing 7 hits and 2 runs, 1 earned. He walked no one and struck out 4. He has allowed just one walk in 50 innings pitched this season. Solis (0-3) took the loss.
Every player in the St. Paul Saints lineup but one had at least one hit. Kvasnicka was 2-4 with a run and 2 RBI in his return. Nikorak saw deuces wild, scoring two runs, driving in two and rapping out two hits. Paciorek also had two hits and drove in two.
DiFazio remains ridiculously hot. He extended his hitting streak to 10-games, a span where he has gone 25-47 (.532), with 12 runs and 17 RBI.
By taking two of three the St. Paul Saints have won all nine series this season. Tomorrow the team welcomes the Sioux City Explorers, the club with the second best record in the American Association and nearly as hot as St. Paul. The Saints send LHP Kramer Sneed (4-1, 2.77) to the mound against Explorers RHP Jeff Marquez (4-1, 2.03).
Read Feature on St. Paul Saints starter Dustin Crenshaw.
By Robert Pannier