Andy LaRoche’s Walk-Off Cracks Saints Halos as Wichita Wingnuts Win, 6-5
Andy LaRoche has been a Wichita Wingnuts player for just 14 games, but he is already leaving an indelible mark on the club. LaRoche blasted two home runs on the night, including a walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth inning that won the game and sent the club to a 6-5 win. It also dropped the St. Paul Saints to a season high four-game losing streak in the process.
For the second straight night the Saints got on the board first in the top of the second inning, and for the second straight night it was Ian Gac who scored the run. Monday night he homered in his first at-bat since returning from the disabled list, and on Tuesday he ripped a double down the left field line off Wingnuts starter Tim Brown to put himself at second with no one out. Nate Hanson then grounded a ball to Taylor Smart at second, but the Wichita second baseman could not beat Hanson to first and there were runners at the corners with no one out. Brown remained poised however, getting Joey Paciorek to ground into a fielder’s choice that scored Gac, and then inducing two ground ball outs and the inning was over.
Reyes Dorado was the starter for St. Paul. He was signed yesterday to replace Dustin Crenshaw, who went on the disabled list to start the week. Dorado looked solid through the first three innings, but in the bottom of the fourth the Wichita Wingnuts mounted a rally. LaRoche took the first two pitches he saw to begin the inning, then ripped his third home run in a Wingnuts uniform to tie the game. T.J. Mittelstaedt followed with a single and moved to second when John Nester singled up the middle. A perfect sacrifice by Harrison Kain moved both runners into scoring position, Mittelstaedt scored on a sacrifice fly by Leo Vargas. That made it 2-1 Wichita.
The St. Paul Saints responded right away in the top of the fifth inning. Joey Paciorek singled to get things started and Anthony Phillips followed with a walk. A sacrifice by Dan Kaczrowski gave the Saints runners at second and third with one out. Alonzo Harris then fell behind 0-2, before working the count full. He fouled off the seventh pitch of the at-bat, then had a beautiful hit the opposite way into right field that brought home both runners to give St. Paul the lead. Harris was nailed in a run down, however, emptying the bases, but that ensured Phillips scored. Willie Argo followed with a deep shot over the left-center field fence that made it 4-2. For Argo that was his 10th home run of the season.
Just as the Saints had responded in the top of the fifth, the Wingnuts responded in the bottom half of the inning. Nick Van Stratten singled to get the inning started, and would have been doubled off when David Espinosa lined a ball up the middle that Phillips made a nice play on for the second out. He then threw to first, but the ball hit off of Van Stratten’s helmet and caromed into the stands. That allowed the runner to take second and, more importantly, kept the inning alive. LaRoche then drew a walk to put two on for T.J. Mittelstaedt. The Wingnuts third baseman went to 1-1, then ripped a towering shot down the right field line that just stayed fair. The three-run home run put the Wingnuts back on top. It was his 14th home run of the season.
This game had the look and feel of the previous night’s contest, when the St. Paul Saints jumped out to a 4-1 lead only to see that vanish and lose 5-4, however, Alonzo Harris would add some air into the St. Paul dugout. Brown got the first two batters of the seventh out, but then went 2-0 on Harris. The Saints center fielder then drilled Brown’s next offering over the center field wall for his 12th homer of the season and the game was tied.
In the bottom of the eighth the Wichita Wingnuts threatened to take the lead again. Saints manager George Tsamis opted to use his closer in a tie game, and Ryan Rodebaugh found himself in trouble when he gave up back-to-back singles to Nester and Kain to start the frame. Vargas then attempted to bunt, but a shallow pop to Hanson at third was caught for the first out. Taylor Smart then grounded out, moving both runners up 90-feet and Tsamis had a dilemma. Did he walk the bases loaded by giving the hot hitting Van Stratten a free pass and go after Taylor Oldham, or did he have his closer go right after the hot hitting Wingnuts center fielder. Tsamis chose the former and Rodebaugh got Oldham to fly out to end the inning.
It was an impressive display of poise for Rodebaugh in the eighth, but there was about to be an even more impressive display in the bottom of the ninth. The Saints closer got Espinosa to fly out to begin the inning but, on a 3-2 pitch, LaRoche drilled a ball over the left field fence for his fourth homer of the year and the Wichita Wingnuts were winners in walk-off fashion, 6-5.
Alex Boshers (3-2) earned the victory for the Wingnuts with two outstanding innings of relief. Boshers has proven to be anything but a rookie this season as he has established himself as one of the premier setup guys in the American Association.
LaRoche finished 2-4 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI. Mittelstaedt was 2-3 with 2 runs and 3 RBI. Nester added 3 hits and Van Stratten was 2-3 with a run and 2 walks for the victors. Gac, Harris and Argo all had 2 hits for the Saints. Harris drove in 3 and scored a run. Argo had a run and an RBI.
By Robert Pannier