On a night of excitement in St. Paul, where the momentum was going the Saints way, the Twin Cities favorite baseball team was downed by the Explorers 6-2, as the Sioux City pitching staff dominated the Saints. It was a night that saw the Saints muster just three hits while their pitchers were giving up 13 of their own.
The Saints unveiled new jerseys at the game, so this was called “Saints Jersey Night,” where the team gave out replicas of previous jerseys to fans. While it may have been Jersey Night, the night could have just as easily been called “Air Ball Night,” as the Saints continually found themselves getting out via the popout and flyball. In fact, 10 of the first 12 outs came in the air, while the two others were grounders.
Usually when a pitcher is allowing so many balls into the air it comes back to hurt him, but not for Explorers starter Jesse English, at least not on this night. English just got Saints hitters to bunt into popouts, hit into popouts and hit routine fly outs. In fact, the Saints first hit of the game was a broken bat pop fly that dropped just over the head of the Explorers shortstop, and scored two runs.
On the other side of the diamond, St. Paul starter Jeff Shields was not having a good night at all, but much of that was not his own fault. He learned that baseball truly is a game of inches, especially in the fifth inning. With one out and a Dillon Usiak on first, Usiak was sent on a hit and run with Oscar Mesa at the plate. Mesa sliced a ball towards the hole in short, but Joey Becker was not there to make the play for St. Paul, because he had moved to cover second base with Usiak running. The hit moved Usiak to third. The very next batter was Tim Cowell, and with Mesa running on the pitch it was déjà vu all over again. Becker moved toward second base to cover the play, and the spot he vacated was exactly where Cowell hit the ball.
What should have been two inning ending ground outs, turned into singles that kept the inning alive, putting Shields into greater peril. One out later Rene Tosoni hit a pitch that if Becker was playing just six inches further to his right he makes the play easily, and the inning is over. Instead the ball hit off Becker’s glove and into left field for a base hit. It was that kind of night for Shields, and this cost him the game.
Jared McDonald’s broken bat single in the bottom of the fifth scored two and put the deficit back to one, but Shields was right back in trouble in the sixth. Peter Barrows reached on a single that just went off Becker’s glove (sense a trend) and moved to third on a double by Tommy Mendonca. Amos Ramon then hit a sacrifice fly that scored Barrows, but Joe Bonfe threw to third and it looked like 3B Henry Wrigley clearly tagged out Mendonca in time, however, the umpire ruled that the tag had not been applied and that the runner was safe. Despite a heated exchange between the umpire and Saints Manager George Tsamis the ruling stood. Dillon Usiak followed with a double, and the score was 5-2.
Two plays turned what should have been a scoreless, or at the very least a one-run inning, into an inning where Sioux City plated two runs. This was the kind of night that Shields and the Saints were having, meaning it could have just as easily been called “Game of Inches” Night at the park.
While the loss hurt, that pain was increased by the fact that Willie Cabrera’s 19-game hitting streak came to an end. After walking his first time up, Cabrera went 0-3 the rest of the way.
The loss allowed Laredo to gain a half-game in the Wild Card standings, putting them just one-half game out. However, Winnipeg lost as well, meaning that the Saints are still just two games back for the North Division lead with 22 games left in the season, and six of those games are against Winnipeg.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA