ST. PAUL —Just like in the regular season, playoff baseball means sometimes teams have to scratch and claw just to get a run across the plate by any means necessary. The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks got a hard reminder of that rule on Sunday.
Despite commanding pitching and defense, the RedHawks missed another chance to advance to the American Assocation championship series when the St. Paul Saints scored on a walk-off single in the ninth inning, winning 1-0 to force a deciding fifth game in this post-season series.
The RedHawks are scheduled to play one more with the Saints on Monday night at 7:05 p.m., with the winner claiming the North Division title.
The RedHawks, who won the first two games of the best-of-five series in Fargo, were held to just three hits and struck out a dozen times by the Saints, who staved off elimination for the second consecutive game.
RedHawks reliever J.R. Bunda pitched the ninth and took the loss after he walked Josh Allen to start the inning. Allen went to second on a sacrifice bunt, then to third on a groundout, before Blake Schmidt’s infield single to third base brought Allen home to win the game.
Schmidt’s softly-hit ball rolled up the third base line, forcing F-M third baseman Joe Becht to make a long throw across the diamond. It was off target, and once Allen crossed the plate, the Saints poured out of the dugout to celebrate the season-saving win.
The RedHawks managed just one hit through the first four innings, but mounted their first series threat with two out in the fifth. After Carlos Garcia worked a walk, Becht laced a double that landed just inside the foul line. But the runners on second and third were stranded there when Brennan Metzger struck out looking.
“We didn’t have many chances. (Saturday) night we left too many guys on base, and we had maybe one chance tonight. They out-dueled us,” said RedHawks manager Jim Bennett.
Right-hander Bret Helton, who was 6-7 during the regular season, got the start for F-M and lasted six shutout innings, allowing three hits and four walks while striking out two.
“My heater and curveball were working all night,” said Helton, who was pitching for the first time in this playoff series. “I started throwing my cutter early and they were keying on it. I threw it early against them the last time I saw them, so I kind of bagged that because I think they were looking for it and planned on it. I kind of relied on my heater and curve and it worked pretty well.”
Joe Filomeno came on to pitch the seventh for F-M and faced down trouble. The Saints got runners to second and third with one out before Filomeno, a left-handed middle reliever, coaxed a bouncer to third base and a called third strike to get out of the inning.
Saints right-hander starter Ryan Zimmerman struck out 10 RedHawks in 7⅓ innings.
“He’s done a good job ever since they put him in the rotation,” Bennett said.
It was a frustrating night overall for F-M, which held a four-run lead in Game 3 in the seventh inning and looked poised to sweep the series, but now faces an elimination game on Monday.
“These last two games, I can’t imagine how it’s gone,” Helton said. “Taking a perfect game into the seventh and then having a shutout through nine, that’s tough. We’ve just got to hit better and pitch better, but these guys are good. They don’t go away. We don’t go away either.”
The RedHawks are looking to advance to a championship series for the first time since they won their final Northern League title in 2010.