Willie Argo Propels St. Paul Saints Past Sioux City, 5-3
After seeing their 10-game win streak snapped the night before, the St. Paul Saints rebounded behind an outstanding performance by their star left fielder, Willie Argo, in a 5-3 victory over the Sioux City Explorers. The Saints win snapped the Explorers 14-game win streak, and moved St. Paul’s magic number to clinch the division title to just one game.
That game was a match-up of 11 game winners, and the Saints were the ones who got off to a great start. With one out in the top of the first inning, Argo worked the count full before drawing a walk against Sioux City ace Patrick Johnson. Vinny DiFazio was the next hitter and he, too, worked the count full. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat he took a Johnson offering and ripped it for a two-run homer to give the Saints the lead.
The home run was DiFazio’s 14th of the season, giving him sole possession of second place in that category in the American Association. It also gave him 72 RBI, one ahead of teammate Angelo Songco for the league lead. With 25 games left in the season, the Saints catcher has a real shot at winning the Triple Crown, as he also is the league leader in batting average.
Up 2-o, St. Paul starter Kramer Sneed continued his turnaround in the first inning, keeping the Explorers off the scoreboard. In the second he found himself in a bit of trouble though. With one out Ryan Court hit his sixth home run of the season to make it a one-run game. Tommy Mendoca and Matt Koch followed the homer with back-to-back singles that put runners on first and second with one out. A ground out by Tim Cowell cut down Koch at second and put runners at the corners. That brought Matty Johnson to the plate, who singled scoring Mendonca to tie the game. The inning could have gotten much bigger, but Sneed showed great poise, striking out Brent Keys to end the threat.
The game remained tied until the fourth when the St. Paul Saints took back the lead. Mike Kvasnicka ripped a double with one out and moved to third on a single by Ryan Lashley. Joey Paciorek then hit a hard ground ball to short. The only play was a fielder’s choice at second and Kvasnicka scored to give the visitors back the lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
In the fifth it was time for Argo to extend the lead. Johnson retired the first hitter of the inning, but then Argo turned on a 1-2 pitch and drilled it over the wall for his ninth home run of the year. That extended the lead to two.
Following the two runs in the second, Sneed returned to the mound in the third and fourth and looked very impressive. He gave up a two out single in the third, but struck out the first and last hitters of the inning to keep Sioux City at bay. In the fourth the left-hander retired the side in order, adding another strikeout along the way.
In the fifth, the Saints starter found himself in a bit of trouble, but showed a great deal of moxie to get out of it. Back-to-back singles by Johnson and Keys put runners at the corners with no one out. Sneed struck out Rene Tosoni and then got Brock Kjeldgaard to pop out for the second out of the inning. Noah Perio drew a walk to load the bases bringing Court to the plate. He had homered earlier in the game, but Sneed went right after him, getting the Explorers second baseman to fly out to shallow right field to end the inning.
In the sixth the Explorers were finally able to get back on the board. Mendonca doubled to begin the inning and moved to third on a fly out. Tim Cowell’s sacrifice fly scored Mendonca to make it 4-3. Johnson followed with a single and Sneed then hit Keys to put two on with two out. That would be it for Sneed.
Reliever Mike Zouzalik came in and did what he has done with great efficiency lately – get outs. Zouzalik got Tosoni to fly out and the inning was over.
In the top of the seventh the Saints repeated their familiar pattern for this season – a team scores against them and they respond right away in their next at-bats. This time it was their star of the game who led the way. Argo began the inning with a single and moved to second on a ground out by DiFazio. Two batters later Kvasnicka singled to right field to score Argo and the lead was back two.
Manager George Tsamis decided to stay with Zouzalik in both the seventh and eighth innings and he was downright awesome. Zouzalik retired all seven batters he faced on the night, striking out two. Of the 30 pitches he threw, 21 were strikes.
In the ninth Tsamis turned to his ace closer, Ryan Rodebaugh, to finish the game off. Rodebaugh retired Sioux City in order for his league leading 20th save of the season. It is the right-handers ninth straight save he has converted, and he has not allowed a hit in his last six outings.
Sneed (12-2) earned his 12th win of the season to move into a first-place tie with teammate Dustin Crenshaw for the American Association lead. He pitched 5.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and a walk. He gave up 3 runs, while striking out 5. While the stat line was not as impressive as fans are accustomed to, that fifth inning was a game-changer.
Argo was the hot hitter at the plate. The Saints left fielder went 2-4 with 3 runs and an RBI. He also drew a walk. Kvasnicka finished 2-3 with a run and an RBI. Anthony Phillips also had two hits and DiFazio drove in two.
By Robert Pannier