Three-Run Seventh Buoys Saltdogs Playoff Hopes; Down Saints 5-2
The Lincoln Saltdogs came to St. Paul trailing the Sioux City Explorers by one game in the Central Division with just four-games to play. They clearly had the hardest path to the finals, having to face the North Division leading Saints, while the Gary Southshore RailCats were hosting Joplin and Sioux City was visiting Texas. The odds were long, but Friday night the Saltdogs took the first step toward a playoff berth, downing the Saints 5-2 in the first game of their four-game set.
Stephen Shackelford was called into emergency service as the starter, and he looked really good early on. Kramer Sneed looked good for the Saints as well, as the two combined to keep the game scoreless through the first two frames.
In the third, Lincoln would take the lead. Austin Darby started the inning with a single and moved to second on a base hit by Tyler Urps. Robby Kuzdale then laid down a bunt to move both runners into scoring position, and Juan Martinez brought Darby home with a sacrifice fly.
The Saints responded right away in the bottom of the third. Shackelford retired the first two batters of the inning, but Brady Burzynski reached first on a controversial call. With two strikes, Burzynski missed the pitch and it wound up hitting off of his foot and bouncing away. That should have made him the third out, but the umpire thought it was simply a wild pitch. Burzynski alertly ran to first and was called safe. He then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Ryan Cavan followed with a double and the game was tied.
In the fifth Lincoln retook the lead. Kuzdale doubled with one out and moved to third on a ground out. Curt Smith was the intentionally walked to put runners at the corners with two-outs. Next up was Luis Alen, who ripped a base hit to left that scored Kuzdale to make it 2-1.
The Saints would tie the score in the bottom of the sixth. Cavan walked to start the inning and reached second on a ground out. After Nate Hanson walked, Vinny DiFazio attempted to check his swing on a pitch, but made contact anyway. The ball squirted into right field for a base hit, scoring Cavan to tie the game.
In the top of the seventh, the Lincoln Saltdogs retook the lead and they would not relinquish it. Urps was hit by a pitch to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice by Kuzdale. Martinez then ripped a single that scored Urps and it was 3-2. Benji Waite then relieved, but he could not stop the flow. Curt Smith followed with a double that looked like it would score Martinez, but a great relay from Burzynski to Tanner Vavra to Aaron Gretz cut him down at the plate. It did not matter, however, as Luis Alen followed with a single that scored Smith to make it 4-2. A single by Jon Smith scored Alen and that would make it 5-2, the final score of the game.
Brad Orosey (4-3) earned the win for Lincoln. Evan Reed closed out the ninth for his 21st save. Sneed (0-1) took the loss.
Alen finished the day 2-4 with a run and 2-RBI. Martinez also drove in two. Urps was 2-3 with a run scored. Cavan was the only Saints player to have two hits in the game, going 2-3 with a run and an RBI.
These two team will go at it again Saturday night. Kody Knaus (2-2, 5.35) will go for the St. Paul Saints. He will be opposed by Matt Larkins (7-7, 3.91). Game time is 7:05.
By Robert Pannier