Nick Van Stratten Sends Wichita Wingnuts to 5-4 Victory Over St. Paul Saints
The St. Paul Saints were unable to stop the bleeding, falling for the third straight night as Nick Van Stratten delivered a clutch two-out single in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Wichita Wingnuts their first lead of the game. The Wingnuts would hold on for the 5-4 Win, moving their magic number to clinch the American Association’s South Division to just seven games.
This had the makings of a classic pitchers’ duel as Scott Richmond took the hill for Wichita against Jeff Shields for St. Paul. Neither team was able to score in the first inning, but in the top of the second St. Paul jumped out in front. Ian Gac returned from the disabled list prior to the game starting and took two quick balls from the Wingnuts starter. He then crushed the next offering by Richmond over the scoreboard in dead center field, about 450 feet from home plate. It was Gac’s ninth home run of the season.
In the fifth the Saints would extend their lead and it would be the long ball that would hurt Richmond again. Nate Hanson led off the inning with a double, but the Wichita starter retired the next two hitters. That brought Alonzo Harris to the plate who fell behind 0-2, then drilled a shot over the left field fence for his 11th homer of the year. That made it 3-0.
Shields had been masterful through the first four innings allowing three hits and two walks, but keeping the Wingnuts off the scoreboard. Following the Harris home run, Wichita scored a run in the bottom of the fifth to pull back within two. The rally started with Leo Vargas being hit by a pitch. Van Stratten followed with a single to right field, but was cut down on a fielder’s choice that put Vargas at third and Jayce Ray at first. David Espinosa then grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Vargas to make it 3-1.
In the top of the seventh the St. Paul Saints extended the lead back to three. Hanson got it going with a one out single, and Steve Nikorak reached on an error by the shortstop. Hanson came all the way around to score when the ball was misplayed in left to make it 4-1.
The Wingnuts immediately responded in the bottom half of the inning. Shields retired the first two hitters of the inning, but Ray kept it alive by beating out an infield single, and moved to third on an error by the first baseman. Espinosa then ripped a triple into right field. The ball took a bad hop and was misplayed by the Saints second baseman on the relay, hitting him in the face, stunning him for a moment. Espinosa scored on the play and the Wingnuts were back within one.
That set up the dramatic bottom of the eighth inning. The Saints brought in Mike Zouzalik, who had been virtually untouchable of late. This would not be his night however. T.J. Mittelstaedt drew a five pitch walk to get the inning going. After retiring John Nester, Zouzalik walked Harrison Kain and Taylor Oldham to load the bases. The Saints reliever then struck out Vargas, bringing Van Stratten to the plate. Van Stratten took a ball, then grounded a ball past the third baseman driving home both Mittelstaedt and Kain to make it 5-4 Wichita.
In the ninth the Wingnuts turned to Paul Smyth to close it out. Smyth struck out Gac to begin the inning, but then gave up a single to Ryan Lashley. He then struck out Hanson and got Nikorak to ground out to end the game. It was Smyth’s fifth save since joining the team.
Iden Nazario (2-0) earned the win with two-thirds of an inning of perfect relief. Zouzalik (3-1) took his first loss of the season.
Van Stratten finished 3-5 with 2 RBI. Espinosa also drove two and was 1-3. Mittelstaedt was 2-3 with a run scored. Harris was 2-4 with a run and 2 RBI for St. Paul. Hanson went 2-4 with 2 runs.
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By Robert Pannier