Vinny DiFazio, Steve Nikorak Lead St. Paul Saints to 7-4 Victory
On a night when he did not have his best stuff going for him, Jeff Shields watched his team battle back for him twice to give the St. Paul Saints starter a 7-4 win over the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The victory is Shields 11th of the season, moving him into a tie with teammate Kramer Sneed for second in the American Association in wins.
Shields looked like he would breeze through the first inning after retiring the first two hitters of the game, but Casey Haerther and Josh Mazzola followed with back-to-back singles to keep the inning alive. Reggie Abercrombie’s single scored Haerther to make it 1-0. Brad Boyer then grounded to second base, but Dan Kaczrowski could not get a handle on the ball and Mazzola scored on the play.
This looked critical because the Winnipeg Goldeyes had ace Nick Hernandez on the mound. The Winnipeg left-hander allowed just two hits through the first three frames, and one of those was eliminated on a double-play. He looked nearly untouchable, but in the fourth the Saints were finally able to get on the board.
Willie Argo got the inning started with a double, bringing catcher Vinny DiFazio to the plate. DiFazio worked the count to 2-2, then crushed a Hernandez offering over the left field fence for his 13th home run of the year. That tied him with Angelo Songco for second in the league in home runs, but more importantly it tied the score.
The Goldeyes responded right away against Shields. Casio Grider singled to begin the fifth inning, and moved to third on a double by Haerther. Josh Mazzola’s sacrifice fly brought Grider home giving Winnipeg back the lead. Abercrombie followed with a single to make it 4-2.
Hernandez was back in form in the fifth and, once again, the lead looked to be an insurmountable one. The Saints had other ideas though. With one out, DiFazio ripped a base hit and Angelo Songco was hit by a pitch to put two on with one out. Two batters later Ryan Lashley’s sharp single loaded the bases with two outs. Steve Nikorak was the hitter, and the St. Paul Saints third baseman delivered a clutch ground-rule double that bounced over the fence in center field. That scored DiFazio and Songco to tie the score, and there were still two runners in scoring position. Anthony Phillips followed by beating out an infield single that scored Lashley and St. Paul had their first lead of the game.
The Saints turned to reliever Mike Zouzalik in the seventh and he looked very sharp. The big right-hander was perfect in the seventh and eighth innings, striking out four.
In the bottom of the eighth the Saints looked to increase their lead. With Jon Jones on the hill for the Goldeyes. Mke Kvasnicka singled with one out but was thrown out trying to steal second, making it two down and no one on. Ryan Lashley was the hitter and, after falling behind 1-2, he fouled off two pitches to stay alive before drawing a walk. That brought Nikorak to the plate who took the first pitch he saw from Jones and drilled it for a two-run homer.
Nikorak continues to impress after returning from what many thought was a season-ending injury. He finished 2-4 with a run and 4 RBI. Nikorak added a double and a home run, and his hits were the pivotal points in the game. After the contest he remained his usual humble self. “I just try to hit it as hard as I can. I was glad they came up so big.”
In the ninth Ryan Rodebaugh came on to close it out. Rodebaugh hit one batter, but struck out two and closed out the game for his 18th save of the season. That leads the American Association.
Shields (11-1) earned the victory. He pitched 6 innings, allowed 8 hits, 2 walks and 4 runs, 3 of which were earned. He also struck out 1.
DiFazio finished 2-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBI. Anthony Phillips was 2-4 with an RBI. Kvasnicka was also 2-4. Abercrombie and Haerther each had two hits.
The victory moved the St. Paul Saints magic number to 6.
By Robert Pannier