FARGO — The Chicago Dogs sapped the suspense early in Wednesday night's American Association baseball playoff game at Newman Outdoor Field.
The Dogs scored five runs in their first at-bat, including a T.J. Bennett grand slam, to fuel an 11-1 victory against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in Game 4 of the North Division championship series.
The Dogs evened the best-of-5 series at 2-2, one night after the RedHawks took the series lead with a dramatic walk-off victory. There was no late-inning drama Wednesday evening as Chicago scored the game's first 11 runs. The series-deciding Game 5 is slated for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at Newman Outdoor Field. The winner advances to the league championship series against the Kansas City Monarchs.
“Both teams are exactly where they’re supposed to be based on the rosters and the regular season," said RedHawks manager Chris Coste. "We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be at this point of the season. It’s going to be a fun Game 5."
Bennett, who played for the RedHawks in 2019, sparked the Dogs offense, finishing 2-for-3 with five RBIs, including the aforementioned grand slam. He also walked and scored two runs. The Dogs finished with three home runs.
"Game 5s, Game 7s, they’re fun, everything is on the line," Bennett said. "Everybody is ready to go and going to leave it all out there. These are two great games and I don’t think anyone is surprised that we got to Game 5. We knew it would be a good series all the way around."
Chicago starting pitcher Christian Friedrich stymied the RedHawks offense, holding F-M scoreless through seven innings. RedHawks first baseman Correlle Prime led off the eighth inning with a home run off Friedrich to break up the shutout. Friedrich pitched eight innings and allowed one run on nine hits. The left-hander struck out four batters and walked none.
"Friedrich did an amazing job on the mound tonight, keeping a great offense quiet," Bennett said. "That allowed us as an offense to click on all cylinders."
Prime and Alex Boxwell paced the F-M offense with two hits apiece. The RedHawks finished with nine hits, stranding seven runners on base.
RedHawks designated hitter Kevin Krause belted a two-out triple in the fourth inning, but injured his ankle as he stepped awkwardly on third base. Krause was helped off the field and left the game. Krause batted .341 during the regular season.
Coste said Krause sprained his ankle and likely won't be available for whatever season the RedHawks have remaining.
"It’s a pretty good ankle sprain," Coste said.
The Dogs jumped to a big lead in the top of the first inning, sending nine batters to the plate. Designated hitter Michael Crouse sparked the rally with an RBI single. The left-handed swinging Bennett capped the rally with an opposite-field grand slam that cleared the left-field fence. Bennett's blast gave Chicago a 5-0 lead.
"The first inning was clearly a tough one," Coste said. "I feel like if we could have put a couple runs up, maybe it changes the tilt of the game, but at the same time when you look at the final score, Chicago did what upper-level teams do. They just kept on coming. They did to us what we’ve been able to do to teams all year."
Bennett said that early offense was critical.
"That was big for our team," Bennett said. "We lost a tough one (Tuesday) night. To come and put a big number there in the first gave us the confidence we needed to kind of get back to where we were as a team."
Dogs center fielder Anfernee Grier extended that lead in the third inning with an RBI triple that scored Bennett from first base for a 6-0 lead. Harrison Smith added an RBI double that plated Grier for a 7-0 lead. Ryan Lidge also tried to score from first base on Smith's hit, but was thrown out at the plate to end the Chicago third.
"The third inning when they scored it was going to be tough to come back at that point," Coste said. "We’ve seen it countless times in the past where a team scores early, but if they don’t score any more they can be caught. … The third inning really took all the wind out of our sails at that point."
Right fielder Danny Mars added a solo home run in the fourth inning to give the Dogs an 8-0 lead.
Second baseman Joey Terdoslavich cracked an opposite-way home run to left field for a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning. Brennan Metzger's sacrifice fly in the fifth made it a 10-0 lead. Bennett capped his night with an RBI single for an 11-0 Chicago lead in the sixth inning.
"They just never gave us any breathing room," Coste said. "They took a lot of the emotion out of the game."
Right-hander Ryan Flores is projected to start Game 5 for the RedHawks, while the Dogs are expected to counter with right-hander Jordan Kipper. Flores and Kipper also faced off in Game 2 of the division championship series.
"When you have a guy like Flores, you feel pretty good about your chances, but I’m sure Chicago feels the same way, they got Kipper who threw well against us last time," Coste said.
"We’ve got two of the best arms in the league with Kipper and Flores on the mound," Bennett added. "That will be a fun one to be a part of."