Willie Argo Leads St. Paul Saints to Victory No. 16
Just 18 games into the 2015 American Association season, the St. Paul Saints have already won their 16th game. The team is getting big performances from their entire roster and, on this night, it was Willie Argo who had the biggest night of all.
So manager George Tsamis could give Alonzo Harris a day off and get Mitch Elliot some at-bats, Argo was moved to center field, and he had a big day. The center fielder pro tem was 3-4 and scored three of the Saints eight runs on the day in the 8-3 victory over the Joplin Blasters. The big day moved his average to .310 for the season.
The St. Paul Saints continued their business model on Tuesday night; score early, have their starter shut down the opposing team, and get clutch hits, especially with two outs. The model was on full display on this night.
The game had all the makings of a classic pitchers’ duel. Joplin Blasters starter Matt Parish had thrown six no-hit innings against the Amarillo Thunderheads in his last start. Jeff Shields entered the game 3-0, and had not allowed more than three runs in any game this season, which included 7 innings against Grand Prairie in his last start, where he allowed 7 hits and 2 runs while striking out 9.
Shields held the Blasters scoreless through the first inning, giving his team the opportunity to jump out on top. They were happy to take advantage of that opportunity. Mitch Elliot singled to begin the bottom of the first, and Sam Maus followed with a single of his own. Elliot raced for third and made it in safely, but over slid the bag and was tagged out. Argo then crushed a ball to right-center field that hit off the wall for a double, moving Maus to third. That brought superstar Ian Gac to the plate. He laced a shot down the line that remained just fair, plating both runners to give the St. Paul Saints the 2-0 lead. It was Gac’s 13th double of the season already.
In the top of the second the Blasters tied the score. A brief downpour seemed to have disturbed Shields a bit. He retired the first batter of the inning, then walked Carlos Ramirez and gave up a single to Oscar Mesa before Mitch Glasser reached on an error to load the bases. Juan Medina plated Ramirez when he lined a hard single into center field, and Maikol Gonzalez grounded into a fielder’s choice to score Mesa to tie the game.
In the third the Saints broke the game open against Parish. Maus beat out an infield single and Argo moved him to second with a base hit. Two batters later Mike Kvasnicka walked to load the bases, and Angelo Songco followed with a single that plated both Argo and Maus. The two RBI gave Songco 20 on the season, keeping him tied with Gac, who had two RBI of his own in the first.
Joey Paciorek was intentionally walked to reload the bases. Steve Nikorak was the next batter and he drilled a shot back to the mound that Parish got his glove on, but could not hold onto. The ball squirted out of his glove, giving him no play. Kvasnicka scored, and the Saints extended their lead to three. A single to center by Anthony Phillips scored Songco and that would be it for Parish (1-1). The right-hander allowed 10 hits, 2 walks and 7 earned runs in 2.1 innings pitched. He struck out 5.
Matt Swilley relieved and was greeted by a single from Mitch Elliot to score Paciorek. That would be the fifth run of the inning and staked Shields to a 7-2 lead.
In the fourth inning St. Paul added an insurance run. Argo lined a double to open the frame, and after moving to third on a wild pitch, scored on a passed ball to make it 8-2.
In the fifth, the Joplin Blasters got a run of their own. Steven Tinoco began the inning with a double, moved to third on a ground out, and scored on a ground out. That made the score 8-3.
Shields (4-0) was absolutely brilliant for the St. Paul Saints. He finished with 7 hits and 2 walks allowed. He gave up two earned runs and struck out 3 in keeping himself undefeated. His four victories are tied with teammate Dustin Crenshaw for the league lead.
Despite their starter allowing the early runs, the Blasters bullpen pitched exceptionally well. In 5.2 innings pitched they allowed just 4 hits and 1 unearned run, while striking out 6.
Read feature on American Association RBI leader Angelo Songco.
By Robert Pannier