Dan Johnson’s Knuckler Dances in Leading St. Paul Saints to 7-1 Victory
Dan Johnson has been looking to make it back to the Major Leagues one day, but this time as a knuckleball pitcher. He has not produced the results he has desired through his first few starts, but Thursday night he had that knuckleball dancing, shutting down the Lincoln Saltdogs offense for seven-innings in leading his team to a 7-1 victory.
The game started out well for St. Paul it seemed from the very first pitch. Alonzo Harris led off the game with a single and stole second base. Two batters later Tony Thomas lined a single into left field that scored Harris to make it 1-0.
The Saltdogs had their chance to get that run right back in the bottom half of the inning. Luis Alen singled with one out, and Johnson then hit Brandon Jacobs and Rene Leveret, both with two strikes, to load the bases. This was their chance to at least tie the game, but the Saints starter induced a double-play to end the threat and keep it a one-run lead for his team.
From there, Johnson was in complete command. He would only allow a lone single through the next five frames. The knuckeball danced its way to the plate and Saltdogs hitters had no answer in how to deal with it.
“He was throwing it for strikes for sure,” Manager George Tsamis was quoted after game. “When you can throw pitches like that for strikes it makes it really hard on hitters, and he was mixing the fastball in well. It was a great start.”
Catcher Aaron Gretz agreed. “He really pitched well. This is only his fifth start so he is still learning how to pitch, and he looked really good out there. His stuff was great. He made it really easy to call anything at any point in the game.”
While Johnson was breezing through the contest, his team was staking him to an insurmountable lead. In the fourth, Thomas started the inning with a double and scored when Trever Adams crushed his fourth homerun since joining the Saints. The two-run shot made it 3-0.
In the fifth, Gretz singled to start the frame and moved to third when Sam Maus laid down a bunt but the pitcher threw the ball away, allowing Maus to reach and Gretz to go to third. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Harris and it was 4-0.
In the sixth the onslaught continued. Thomas reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch and third on an error by the catcher. A single by Angelo Songco brought Thomas home and the game was clearly being dominated by St. Paul.
The eighth inning saw the Saints put this one away. Shairon Martis retired the first two batters of the inning, but Thomas drew a four-pitch walk, and Songco followed with an impressive at-bat, falling behind 0-2 before coming all the way back to make the count full before singling the opposite way. Adams was then hit by pitch and the day for Martis was over.
Ryan Davis took over but he could not stop the bleeding. He issued back-to-back free passes to Tony Caldwell and Tanner Vavra, each of which scored a run. That made the score 7-0.
Johnson (2-2) was done after 7-innings. He allowed just 4-hits and 2-walks, while striking out 3. Most impressive was the fact that he threw 119 pitches and 75-went for strikes.
The Saltdogs finally got on the board in the bottom of the eighth against the Saints bullpen. With one out Brandon Jacobs drilled his third homerun of the season to left field. That made it 7-1 and Lincoln would get no closer.
Thomas finished 2-4 with 3-runs scored and an RBI. Adams was 1-3 with a run and 2-RBI. Jacobs was 1-2 with a run, a RBI and he reached base two other times for the Lincoln Saltdogs.
Game 2 of the four-game set is on Friday. Robert Coe (8-2, 4.40) goes for his ninth win for the St. Paul Saints, Casey Barnes (3-4, 5.19) gets the start for Lincoln. Game time is 6:35.
By Robert Pannier