Willie Argo Powers St. Paul Saints to 11-8 Victory Over Wichita Wingnuts
It’s hard to call any game a must win contest when you’re up by 22 games over the next best team in your division and have already clinched, but that was the situation the St. Paul Saints were in Wednesday night. Losers of four straight, the powerful Saints were looking quite vulnerable all of a sudden as the surging Wichita Wingnuts had battled back to take both of the first two games after trailing late in each. However, on this night, St. Paul would finally hold on for the 11-8 victory, snapping the losing streak.
Jason Van Skike started for Wichita and he got off to a very bad start right from the get-go. The Wichita starter retired the first batter of the game, but Willie Argo singled to get the rally started. A walk to Vinny DiFazio put two on and Angelo Songco followed with a line drive to center that Wingnuts center fielder Nick Van Stratten looked like he might have a play on, but the ball fell in front, loading the bases with one out. That brought Ian Gac to the plate, who has been red-hot since returning from the disabled list. He continued that torrid start by lining a double into the gap in left-center field that cleared the bases to make it 3-0.
Van Skike was reeling, but has shown in his career that he remains poised when things have not gone his way. Unfortunately, he was not able to keep the Saints rally from continuing. Ryan Lashley followed the Ian Gac double with a shot down the left field line that cleared the wall for his fourth home run of the season. Van Skike retired Nate Hanson for the second out, but Anthony Phillips lined a single into left field to keep the inning alive. Sam Maus then lined a double to the wall that brought Phillips all the way around to score and it 6-0 St. Paul through the first half inning of the game.
It was a great start for the St. Paul Saints, but these are the Wichita Wingnuts, who know how to get rallies of their own started. Robert Coe was on the mound for the Saints and he retired the first two hitters of the inning, but Brent Clevlen, who was signed by Wichita earlier in the day after returning from Mexico, singled to keep the inning going. That brought Andy LaRoche to the plate, who homered twice yesterday, including hitting the game winner in walk-off style. LaRoche took a ball and a strike, then drilled a two-run homer over the left field wall for his fifth homer since joining the team.
In the top of the second, St. Paul got one of those runs back. Van Skike struck out Argo, but DiFazio followed with a double. Two batters later Gac doubled again, scoring DiFazio to make it 7-2.
The Wingnuts grabbed a run themselves in the bottom of the inning. Coe retired the first hitter, then gave up a solo home run to Harrison Kain, his sixth of the season.
Neither team was able to score in the third, but the Wingnuts began to chip away at that lead starting in the bottom of the fourth. T.J. Mittelstaedt begin that inning with a walk and moved to second when Kain singled two batters later. A crazy play then allowed a run to score and end the inning then followed. Leo Vargas singled, scoring Mittelstaedt. On the play Harris’ throw to third was wild and Kain advanced looking to score. Coe retrieved the ball, however, and fired home to easily throw out Kain to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth Wichita scored again. Nick Van Stratten singled to get it started and moved to second when David Espinosa walked. Clevlen followed with a line drive single into right field to load the bases. Andy LaRoche’s sacrifice fly scored Van Stratten and it was 7-5.
In the top of the sixth the Wingnuts turned to Scott Kuzminsky. Wichita had made a habit of coming back against the Saints, and Kuzminsky was charged with keeping it a one-run game. Phillips greeted the Wingnuts reliever with a double, but the next two hitters were retired and it looked like the runner would be stranded. Willie Argo was St. Paul’s last hope. He fouled off the first two pitches, and then Kuzminksy hung a breaking pitch the Argo absolutely crushed. The ball traveled at least 500 feet for a two-run home run to make it 9-5. It was Argo’s 11th homer of the year.
Wichita got those runs plus one more right back in the bottom half of the inning. Dylan Chavez took over for Coe and gave up a single to Kain. Taylor Oldham grounded into a fielder’s choice and advanced on a walk. A wild pitch moved both runners up 90 feet, and that would bring a call for Mike Zouzalik. The Saints reliever was looking for redemption after being unable to hold the lead in the first game of this series. He would get out of the inning, but it would not be pretty.
Zouzalik was able to retire Van Stratten but then he gave up a double to Espinosa that scored two to make it 9-7. Clevlen followed with a single that scored Espinosa and just like that it was a one-run game.
The Saints clung to that one-run lead, as Zouzalik continued on the hill. He pitched brilliantly through the seventh, and in the eighth his club gave him a little breathing room. Robert Mosebach was on the hill for Wichita and he retired the first two St. Paul hitters. Harris fell behind 0-2, but singled to right field to keep the inning alive. That brought Argo to the plate again. He took the first pitch by Mosebach and ripped it over the left-center field wall for his 12th home run of the season to make it 11-8.
In the eighth Zouzalik returned to the mound and pitched brilliantly for St. Paul. He allowed a two out walk, but got the dangerous Clevlen out to end the inning. The Saints reliever would go 2.2 innings, allowing 3 hits, a walk and a run, while striking out 3.
In the ninth the visitors turned to closer Ryan Rodebaugh to finish it off. He walked LaRoche, but then retired the next three hitters to end the game. It was Rodebaugh’s league leading 23rd save of the season.
Robert Coe struggled a bit against the Wingnuts but earned his 1oth win of the season. The victory made Coe the fourth Saints pitcher to reach double-digits in wins, joining Dustin Crenshaw, Kramer Sneed, and Jeff Shields. The 2015 Saints joined the 2008 Sioux Falls Canaries as the only teams in American Association history to have four pitchers with at least 10 wins in the same season.
That was not the only mark hit on the day. Argo finished 3-5 with 3 runs and 4 RBI. The three runs scored gives him 76, which tied the single season St. Paul Saints record set in 2011 by Adam Frost. Gac was 2-4 with a run and 4 RBI as well. Phillips was 2-4 with 2 runs scored.
Clevlen was 3-5 with a run and an RBI in his return to Wichita. Kain went 4-5 with a run and an RBI. LaRoche drove in 3 and Espinosa plated 2 others.
By Robert Pannier