Late St. Paul Saints Rally Gives Jeff Shields Win No. 12
After watching teammates Dustin Crenshaw and Kramer Sneed earn their 13th wins of the season it was time for Jeff Shields to keep on the pace. On a rainy afternoon at CHS Field, the Saints starter dominated for much of the game, holding the Sioux City Explorers to one run on seven hits in seven innings for his 12th win of the season.
St. Paul got off on the right foot from the start against Explorers starter John Straka (9-2), who entered the game with just one loss in 10 decisions this season. Willie Argo singled with one out and advanced to third on a shot by Vinny DiFazio that was just out of the reach of the center fielder. The ball rolled to the wall allowing DiFazio to reach second with the stand-up double. Angelo Songco followed with a ground ball to second that scored Argo and it was 1-0 St. Paul.
Sioux City responded right away in the top of the second. Noah Perio reached on a double that blooped in and scored on a wild pitch. That tied the game at one.
For the next two innings each team had a shot at grabbing the lead, but neither team could take advantage of their opportunities. Finally in the bottom of the fifth the Saints retook the lead. Alonzo Harris led off with a single and moved to second when the left fielder misplayed the ball for an error. A wild pitch moved Harris to third, and he came around to score on another wild pitch. The comedy of errors gave St. Paul back the lead, and Shields was not going to relinquish it.
In the top of the sixth Sioux City threatened but a head’s up play by Argo helped to thwart the rally. Perio singled with one out and moved to third on a Ryan Court single into left field. Court attempted to extend his hit into a double, but Argo caught second baseman Dan Kaczrowski racing for the bag and fired a bullet that just nailed Court. A fielder’s choice ended the inning and the Saints maintained their one-run lead.
In the seventh Shields (12-2) retired the Explorers in order. He finished his 7 innings by allowing 7 hits, an intentional walk and one earned run. He struck out 4 and threw just 90 pitches.
Into the bottom of the seventh the game went as the tension mounted, but Angelo Songco broke through that with one swing of the bat. Straka retired the first two hitters of the inning, but DiFazio kept it alive with a single. Next up was Songco, who blasted a two-run homer over the right field wall to extend the lead to three.
The home run was the Saints first baseman’s 14th of the year, giving him sole possession of third place in the American Association. He also added three RBI to pass teammate Vinny DiFazio for first in that category with 75. His 2-4 day raised his average to .354, putting him just 11 points behind DiFazio for the league lead.
Up 4-1 the St. Paul Saints were not done. Following a double by Mike Kvasnicka, Jimmer Kennedy relieved for Sioux City and walked Nate Hanson. Ryan Lashley then singled to score Kvasnicka to make it 5-1. An Anthony Phillips base hit brought in Hanson and the game was all but over.
The crowd was into it, but a scary moment took away some of the momentum. Kaczrowski attempted to suicide squeeze home Lashley, but the ball popped into air. Lashley turned to head back to third, but was drilled by the Explorers third baseman and ruled out. The Saints DH lay on the field for several minutes, but did remain in the game. After the game manager George Tsamis assured that Lashley was fine.
In the eighth Tsamis turned to Mike Zouzalik to finish out the game. The right-hander has just been ungodly good of late, and on this afternoon it was no exception. Zouzalik allowed no base runners in two innings of work, while striking out two. In his last five outings the Saints reliever has allowed ONE hit in 8.2 innings pitched, while striking out 10.
Besides the offensive heroics of Songco, DiFazio finished 2-3 with a run scored. Lashley also had two hits and an RBI, and Phillips was 3-4 with an RBI.
The victory was an historic one for manager George Tsamis. The 63 wins this season is a single season record for Tsamis as a manager. That record was set when George was the manager of the New Jersey Jackals in 2002.
By Robert Pannier