Zouzalik, Rodebaugh Quiet Blasters to Deliver St. Paul Saints 3-2 Win
Admittedly it isn’t often that the bullpen is the focus of articles on the St. Paul Saints this season. This is the unsung group of the team that just seemingly does the job each and every night, so they do not normally gain the appreciation and recognition that they so deserve. Tonight they earned that attention as Mike Zouzalik and Ryan Rodebaugh delivered big pitches to give the Saints a 3-2 win, snapping the team’s two-game losing streak.
This was a classic pitching duel from the start that pitted Luis Chirinos for the Joplin Blasters against Robert Coe for St. Paul. The Saints got on the board in the first against the Joplin starter. Willie Argo got the rally going with a one-out walk and moved into scoring position when Vinny DiFazio was hit by a pitch. Angelo Songco followed with a single that brought home Argo and it was 1-0 St. Paul.
In the bottom of the second the Blasters would tie the score. Coe retired the first two hitters of the inning, but Oscar Mesa tied it up when he lifted a 1-2 pitch from the right-hander for his third home run of the season.
From there neither team would allow a run until the seventh. Chirinos was pulled after five innings because of high pitch count (97). He allowed 3 hits and 4 walks, plus the one earned run. He struck out 8.
Coe continued his hot August run by keeping Joplin from mounting any kind of rally against him. His performance was rewarded in the top of the seventh when the Saints retook the lead.
Leyson Septimo had relieved in the sixth and struck out the side in his first inning of work. In the seventh inning he struck out the first hitter of the inning to make it four in a row retired on strikeouts. That brought Alonzo Harris to the plate and he took a 1-2 pitch from the hard-thrower and pulled it over the fence for his eighth home run of the season.
The lead did not last long however. In the bottom of the seventh Jesus Solorzano hit a one-out home run, his ninth of the season, to tie the score. Coe then gave up a walk and a single, and manager George Tsamis called for Zouzalik. The right-hander got two ground outs to end the inning and keep the score tied.
The St. Paul Saints responded to Joplin scoring in the bottom of the seventh by retaking the lead in the eighth. Victor Capellan (5-3) came in for the Blasters. He struck out the first batter of the inning, but Joey Paciorek followed with a single, and Steve Nikorak walked to put two on with one out. Two batters later Dan Kaczrowski battled to keep himself alive by fouling off two two-strike pitches, and then delivered a bloop single that was just out of the reach of the Blasters first baseman. That scored Paciorek and the Saints had the lead 3-2.
In the bottom of the eighth, the home team attempted to rally against Zouzalik, getting two on with two outs, but the big righty got Solorzano to fly out to end the inning.
In the ninth Tsamis turned to his closer, and Rodebaugh delivered as he has done in his last ten outings. The Blasters made it exciting, however. Rodebaugh struck out Mesa to begin the inning, but Mitch Glasser reached on a walk. A fielder’s choice put Maikol Gonzalez on first. He then stole second and moved to third on an error on the throw. Steven Tinoco was Joplin’s chance to tie the score, but he struck out to end the game, giving the Saints the 3-2 win.
For Rodebaugh it was his 21st save of the season. Zouzalik (3-0) earned the victory. That moved the right-hander’s career mark to 11-0.
The victory made the St. Paul Saints the first team in the American Association to reach 60 victories. They still maintain a half-game lead over the Sioux City Explorers for the league’s best record.
By Robert Pannier