In a battle of the American Association’s top two teams, the St. Paul Saints came out on top in each of the first two contests. The Sioux City Explorers needed Wednesday’s starter, John Straka, to lead his team to a big win, and the right-hander was just what the doctor ordered.
Straka faced off against Saints No. 1 starter Pedro Hernandez, and he was up to the task on this early afternoon affair. Neither team was able to generate much offense in the first three innings of the ballgame. In the fourth, however, both teams were able to get on the scoreboard.
Michael Lang led off with a double and scored two batters later when Brock Kjeldgaard delivered a double of his own. A single by Noah Perio moved Kjeldgaard to third and he came around to score on a suicide squeeze bunt by Ryan Court. That made it 2-0.
In the bottom of the fourth the Saints cut the deficit in half. Vinny DiFazio walked to lead off the inning, and moved to second two batters later on a base hit by Angelo Songco. Straka was able to get the next batter to pop out, but Joey Paciorek came up big with a two-out single that scored DiFazio to make it 2-1.
In the sixth the Explorers extended their lead back to two-runs and it was Brock Kjeldgaard who go the rally started. The Sioux City first baseman doubled for the second time in the contest to begin the inning and, after moving to third on a ground out, came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Court to make it 3-1.
In the bottom of the seventh, St. Paul returned it back to a one-run game. Mike Kvasnicka led off with a single and moved to second on a single by Paciorek. Robert Youngdahl, who was appearing in his first game for St. Paul, laid down a perfect bunt that moved both runners into scoring position. Dan Kaczrowski walked to load the bases. With Mitch Elliot at the plate, Straka’s pitch hit off the catcher’s glove and bounced away, allowing Kvasnicka to score on the passed ball. That moved the tying run just 90-feet away, but the Sioux City Explorers starter remained incredibly poised, getting Steve Nikorak to foul out to end the threat.
In the ninth the Explorers added another insurance run on a fielder’s choice by Lang that scored Tommy Mendonca. For the day Lang went 2-5 with a run and an RBI, including his seventh double of the season.
Rob Wort came on in the bottom of the ninth looking to save the game for Sioux City. He retired Paciorek on a strikeout before walking Youngdahl. That brought a call to the bullpen to bring in Jose Flores. He yielded a single to Kaczrowski that moved Youngdahl to second. Flores rewarded his manager’s confidence however, striking out Elliot before getting Nikorak to ground out to end the game.
Straka (4-1) pitched 7 innings, only allowing 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs, only one of which was earned. He struck out 6. Hernandez (4-2) was the hard-luck loser, pitching 7 innings, allowing 7 hits and 3 runs. He struck out 2. Flores recorded his American Association leading ninth save of the season.
Kjeldgaard finished 3-4 with 2 runs and an RBI. He had two doubles to move his total to 5. Court had two RBI in on the evening.
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By Robert Pannier