In the upcoming week St. Paul Saints manager George Tsamis is going to have some interesting decisions to make. When Steve Nikorak and Sam Maus went down the club was desperately seeking infielders to help fill the roster. Dan Kaczrowski came out of retirement and a couple of weeks ago Tsamis signed the recently released Ryan Lashley. Both have exceeded the club’s expectations, and on this night Lashley was a key to the club pulling out a 12-4 victory over the Lincoln Saltdogs to gain a split of their four-game series.
Right-hander Dustin Crenshaw started for St. Paul, looking for his 1oth win of the season. The big right-hander gave up a lead-off double to Matt Forgatch, but made a brilliant play on a comebacker to cut Forgatch off the base paths and keep Lincoln from scoring in the first.
In the second the Saltdogs were able to get the lead. Crenshaw retired the first two hitters of the inning, but then gave up a back-to-back singles to Brian Joynt and Jeremy Hamilton. Aaron Payne followed with a single that scored Joynt and it was 1-0 Lincoln.
Right-hander Jesse Smith started for the visitors and he was pitching well through the first two innings, but in the third the Saints took the lead against him behind some clutch hitting. Lashley led off the inning with a double the opposite way, and moved to third on a perfectly placed bunt by Kaczrowski. That brought Alonzo Harris to the plate, who lined a single into left field, scoring Lashley and tying the game.
Harris has been an RBI machine of late. In his last 10 games he has driven home 15 runs, moving his RBI total to 39.
Harris stole second base, his 25th steal of the year, and scored when Willie Argo lined a single to center. Vinny DiFazio followed with a single to left field that moved Argo to second, and Ian Gac’s single down the line in left field scored Argo and made the score 3-1. Two batters later Mike Kvasnicka delivered a huge two-out single that scored both DiFazio and Gac to make it 5-1.
In the fourth the Saints added another run. Lashley led off with a ground ball that he beat out for a single. Two batters later Harris doubled into left field and Argo followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Lashley to make it 6-1.
The Lincoln Saltdogs got three of those runs back in the fifth. Like in the third, Crenshaw retired the first two hitters of the inning, but Eddie Young drew a walk to keep the inning alive. That walk was significant for more reasons other than just keeping the inning alive. That broke an unbelievable streak by Crenshaw where he had not walked a batter in 78 straight innings. A run that dated back 11 starts.
While that streak was impressive, the issue at hand was a runner on base with two outs, and that became significant when Mitch Canham tripled to the wall in right field to score Young and cut the lead to three. Curt Smith was the next hitter and, on the second pitch he saw from the Saints starter, he blasted it over the left field fence for a two-run homer to make it 6-4.
A solid lead had quickly turned into a nail-biter, but just as easily it was back to a huge lead. The St. Paul Saints did what they do best, which is to respond, and in the bottom of the fifth they came up with five runs to extend the lead to six.
Gac beat out a grounder for a single to start the inning, and Angelo Songco followed by drawing a walk. Smith was replaced by Moises Melendez, and Kvasnicka greeted him with a double into left field that scored both runners. Two batters later Lashley hit a ball just over the head of Forgatch in center field that scored Kvasnicka. Lashley raced into third with a triple and it was 8-4. Kaczrowski followed with a single up the middle and just like that their former four-run lead was restored to a five-run lead.
Crenshaw retired six of the final seven batters he faced before his night was over. He finished with 7 innings pitched, allowing 8 hits, that lone walk, and 4 earned runs. He also struck out 4. That moved his record to 10-1, making him tied for the American Association lead in wins.
In the seventh the St. Paul Saints added two more runs. Kvasnicka walked to begin the inning, and advanced to second on a Lashley base hit to left. A ground out moved both runners into scoring position, and Harris came up big with a two-out two-run double that made it 12-4.
Drew Gay pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out two, and Mikey Mehlich pitched a perfect ninth inning to end the game.
Lashley finished 4-4 with 4 runs scored and an RBI. Harris was 3-5 with a run and 3 RBI. Kvasnicka had the big RBI day, going 2-4 with 2 runs and 4 runs driven in. Argo was a perfect 3-3 with a run and 2 RBI. He also walked.
The victory moves the St. Paul Saints to 47-15 at the All-Star break. They are 19.5 games ahead of Winnipeg, by far the largest division lead in the American Association. They have not lost a series this season, going 16-0-2.
By Robert Pannier