They say baseball is a game of inches, and the Kansas City T-Bones were finding themselves on the bad side of that cliché on Friday night as two balls fell a mere inch or two from being home runs early. However, Todd Cunningham left no doubt about his shots, blasting his first two home runs of the postseason, including a grand slam, to lead the T-Bones to a 7-3 victory over the St. Paul Saints. Tommy Collier shook off some early season struggles to toss eight outstanding innings, putting the T-Bones a game away from winning their first championship since 2008.
The St. Paul Saints would jump out in front in the first when Kyle Barrett hit a shot that easily cleared the wall in right-center to give St. Paul a 1-0 lead. It was the first homer of the playoffs for Barrett.
An inning later, the Saints would extend their lead to three. Nathaniel Maggio singled into center to start the inning. A sacrifice moved him to third and he scored when Joey Wong singled up the middle. Wong would move to second on a ground out and scored on a two out hit by Barrett. That made it 3-0.
The Kansas City T-Bones had their chance to score in the second, but a mere two inches kept them from pulling within one. Adrian Nieto singled to start the inning. Two batters later, Alay Lago hit a ball deep to center that hit off the very top of the wall. The umpires originally ruled it a home run, but that was overturned and Lago was sent back to second. With second and third and one down, Trevor Foss walked Danny Hayes to load the bases. That brought Anthony Phillips to the plate, who hit into a double play to get the Saints starter out of the jam.
In the third, the T-Bones would finally break through. Foss retired the first two batters of the inning, but Todd Cunningham hit a ball into the Saints bullpen in left-center for his first home run of the postseason. That brought Noah Perio, Jr. who hit a ball to right-center that missed being a home run by maybe a couple of inches. A walk would put two on, but Kansas City would add no more and the Saints led 3-1.
Trevor Foss pitched a gem for St. Paul. He allowed 5-hits through the first three innings, then retired six of seven through the fourth and fifth. The right-hander came out after five.
Evan Mitchell came on in the sixth and the Kansas City T-Bones would rally to take the lead. Nieto led off with double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Keith Curcio walked to put runners at the corners with no one out, bringing Lago to the plate. He hit a slow grounder to short. Joey Wong opted to come home to get the lead runner, and his decision was wise as his throw beat the runner, but the throw was a little low and Justin O’Conner could not handle it. That allowed Nieto to score on the fielder’s choice to make it 3-2. Mitchell struck out Danny Hayes, and his night would be over.
Beck Wheeler came on and Anthony Phillips put together an amazing at bat, staying alive through 10 pitches before finally drawing a walk to load the bases. That brought Ryan Brett to the plate, who singled into right field. Curcio easily scored and Lago was sent home, however, the throw from Dan Motl was perfect, easily nailing Lago at the plate for the second out of the inning. There were still runners at first and second and Mason Davis walked to load the bases. That brought Todd Cunningham to the plate, who blasted a 1-1 pitch just over the wall in right field for a grand slam to give the T-Bones a 7-3 lead. It was his second homer of the game and gave him five RBI.
After giving up the three early runs, Tommy Collier (2-1) rebounded to take command of the game. The big right-hander allowed a hit in the third and one in the fourth, then retired seven in a row. He gave up just one more hit, allowing 10 total in eight innings to earn the victory. Collier did not allow a walk and struck out two.
Todd Cunningham finished 2-4 with 2-runs and 5-RBI. Adrien Nieto, Mason Davis, and Ryan Brett each had 2-hits for Kansas City. Kyle Barrett led the St. Paul Saints offense, going 2-4 with a run and 2-RBI.
The Saints will look to try tot stay alive tomorrow when they send Chris Nunn to the plate. Kansas City is expected to send Jared Mortensen. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier