Ian Gac’s Walk-Off Home Run Sinks St. Paul Saints: Saints Summary
In a must-win game for the Lincoln Saltdogs, the match-up against the St. Paul Saints had a playoff atmosphere to it from the opening pitch. The team from Nebraska is one game behind the Gary Southshore RailCats and needed a huge start from ace Marquis Fleming to keep them in the race, and he gave them what they needed. However, Nick Barnese gave the Saints the same kind of outing, creating a nail-biter of a game that went to the last batter before it was decided.
Fleming entered on a personal seven-game winning streak, where he had not lost since June 23. However, he had been hit hard in each of his last two starts, giving up a total of 13 runs in 12 innings, both no-decisions.
Barnese was in a bit of a funk himself, winning just once in four August starts, and yielding nine total earned runs in his last two starts covering 13 innings. The game had the appearances of being a potential slugfest before it even began, but that was as far from the results as could be imagined.
The Saints put a runner on base in each of the first three innings, and came away with nothing. In the fourth Fleming got on a roll. Counting the last out of the inning of the third he retired 10 in a row at one point, three of them on strikeouts, to keep the Saints’ bats silent.
While Fleming was warming up, Barnese got it going a little earlier. He gave up a single with one out in the first, then did not give up another hit until the top of the fifth, retiring 11 in a row. He struck out two during that span, and only allowed two balls to leave the infield.
In the fifth the Saints righty found himself in a bit of trouble, giving up singles to the first two batters of the inning, but did not panic at all. After Brandon Pinckney sacrificed the two into scoring position, Barnese fanned Mike Gilmartin and then got Tyler Smith to ground to first to end the inning.
In the sixth Barnese got into a little trouble again. He walked Chad Mozingo to start the inning, but he was running on a hit-n-run play with Luis Nunez at the plate. Nunez lined the ball to Evan Bigley, who threw to first before Mozingo could get back in time, resulting in a double-play. Jon Gaston then drew a walk, and Ian Gac followed with a single. That brought Brian Joynt to the plate, with a chance to break the game open, but he struck out looking on a 1-2 pitch to end the threat.
In the seventh Fleming’s run came to an end, as Devin Thaut led off the inning with a single. Angelo Songco struck out, bringing Joe Bonfe to the plate. He laid down a perfect bunt that he beat out, but Fleming’s throw to first was wild and both runners advanced into scoring position, with one out. Fleming stayed cool though, striking out Jake Taylor and Keith Brachold
Matt Forgatch led off the bottom half of the inning with a single, and eventually made it to third. However, he would be left stranded when Barnese struck out Smith to end the threat.
In the top of the eighth Jhonny Montoya relieved for Lincoln, and had to battle from the start. Joey Becker singled to lead off the inning, and Vince DiFazio followed with a sacrifice sending Becker to second. Willie Cabrera pinch hit and flew out, but the inning remained alive when Montoya hit Evan Bigley. Montoya came through though, striking out Thaut, and the score remained tied at 0.
Barnese had no problem in the eighth, retiring the Saltdogs in order. He threw just 12 pitches, and struck out Gaston to end the inning. It would be the last batter he would face.
Closer Marshall Schuler relieved in the ninth for Lincoln. He gave up a one out single to Joe Bonfe, but then induced Jake Taylor to hit a ground ball to Nunez, who tagged second and threw to first for the double-play.
In the bottom of the ninth the Saints turned to Mikey Mehlich to extend the game. He did not do so for very long. Gac fouled off a 2-2 pitch to stay alive and then homered to left field for the 1-0 walk-off win. For Gac it was his 23rd home run of the year, setting a new single-season franchise record.
Barnese had an outstanding start, yielding five hits and two walks in eight innings, while striking out six. Fleming was just as dominant, giving up four hits and two walks in seven innings, while fanning eight Saints hitters. Schuler was the winner moving him to 4-6 on the season, while Mehlich took the loss to drop to 6-2.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA