ST. PAUL, Minn. — In a scenario all too familiar for Red River Valley baseball fans, a late rally by the St. Paul Saints ended the season for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Leading by two runs and needing six outs to win the finale of the their best-of-five North Division Championship Series, the RedHawks surrendered four runs in the eighth inning and fell 9-7 on Tuesday at CHS Field. The Saints, who trailed 2-0 in the series after a pair of losses in Fargo last week, won the final three games by scoring in the late innings each time to take the American Association’s North Division crown.
With the game tied 5-5, Leo Pina’s two-run home run in the eighth inning gave the RedHawks a 7-5 lead, but the bullpen could not hold.
“It’s disappointing. Our goal was to play 110 games this year and win the last one, and it didn’t happen,” RedHawks manager Jim Bennett said. “I’m proud of these guys though. They played hard all year. They battled. St. Paul had their thing going here and they ran it through to the end. You’ve got to tip your hat to them.”
Tanner Kiest got the save, striking out the side in the ninth for the Saints, who will face the Sioux City Explorers in a best-of-five series for the league title, beginning Wednesday night in Iowa.
The RedHawks had taken a commanding 5-0 lead early in the game, only to see the hosts come roaring back with a quintet of their own in the sixth inning.
With one out in the visitors’ half of the eighth and Karch Kowalczyk pitching, Correlle Prime reached on an infield single, then Pina lifted a fly ball that hit just to the left of the 400 feet sign in deep center. It was Pina’s first home run of the playoffs.
“It felt really good, but we still lost, so I feel bad,” said Pina, who was 2-for-2 with four RBI in the game. “In the moment it was fantastic. Everything was going perfect. We needed to hold them, and they are a really hard team. They do the little things, and that’s baseball.”
The RedHawks mounted a threat in the first inning when Brennan Metzger led off with a single, and Devan Ahart moved him into scoring position with a one-out bloop to short center. But Saints starter Chris Lee struck out Chris Jacobs and Prime to end the inning.
After going 13 consecutive innings without a run, the RedHawks finally revisited the scoreboard in the third. Metzger led off with a double, advanced to third on Tim Colwell’s bunt single and scored on a wild pitch. Colwell, on second, scored when Ahart dropped a ball into right center for a 2-0 lead. After Jacobs walked, Pina doubled with one out to score Ahart and chase Lee from the game. With righty reliever Mike DeVine throwing for St. Paul and two out, Carlos Garcia doubled to left, scoring Jacobs and Pina for a 5-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the home half of the sixth, when things got problematic on a few fronts for F-M.
Saints designated hitter Brady Shoemaker led off with a homer to left off RedHawks right-handed reliever Michael Tamburino. They followed with a single and a walk before Tamburino struck out Josh Allen on a 3-2 count. In came lefty Joe Filomeno, who was immediately checked by the umpires for pine tar. He passed the inspection, then gave up a single to Chesny Young, bringing in a run and cutting the F-M lead to 5-2. Chris Baker followed with a three-run homer to left, to tie the game at 5-5.
Adding injury to those insults, Metzger had to leave the game in the sixth due to a medical issue. He was replaced in left field by Alex Boxwell.
“He was cramping up really bad and it was pretty painful,” Bennett said of Metzger, who had made a spectacular catch against the left field wall in the second inning. “They took him to the hospital to make sure everything’s OK.”
Ryan Williams started the game on the mound for the RedHawks but was lifted after two scoreless innings. Brett Jones got the final two outs of the sixth for F-M and pitched a scoreless seventh inning. But St. Paul started the eighth with back-to-back hits and Jones gave way to Geoff Broussard.
He immediately threw a wild pitch, scoring Josh Allen from third to make it 7-6. After a sacrifice bunt put Saints at second and third with one out, Broussard loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk, then a Michael Lang single up the middle scored two, giving St. Paul its first lead. A sacrifice fly by Shoemaker scored Dan Motl from third, putting the Saints up 9-7, and Broussard was pulled, with Tyler Pike coming in to get the final out of the eighth.
“It was one of those innings where they just play off their momentum,” Bennett said. “Even after Shoemaker hit that first home run to make it 5-1, they get on a roll and we weren’t able to stop them.”
F-M had won the first two games of the series at home, then had fallen in games 3 and 4 in St. Paul. The finale was scheduled for Monday night, but was postponed due to rain. F-M was seeking its first playoff series win since 2010 when the RedHawks were Northern League champions.