ST. PAUL, MN – The Lincoln Saltdogs grabbed the lead three separate times and held off the St. Paul Saints to take the series opener 7-6 on Friday night.
Derek Gordon earned the win by tossing 2.2 innings of shutout relief. Jose Jose stayed a perfect 5-5 in save opportunities… barely. The southpaw gave up two runs and had the tying run at third base before fielding a grounder and throwing out the final batter at first base.
The teams exchanged leads in the first couple innings. Consecutive hits plated the first run for the Saints(24-22) , T.J. Bennett ripped a two-RBI single in the second to give the Saltdogs (26-20) the lead before a Justin O’Connor solo shot tied it in the second inning.
Lincoln’s Austin Robichaux and St. Paul’s Eddie Medina put up blanks over the next three innings until the Saltdogs broke the tie in the sixth. Brandon Jacobs reached on a single to get things going. Then, with two outs, Christian Ibarra pounded a ground-rule double to send home Jacobs. After a walk, Curt Smith singled in another run to make it 4-2.
The Saints promptly tied it back up. Robichaux walked two batters to bring up Max Murphy. The leadoff hitter smacked Robichaux’s final pitch for a double to score two runs and pull the Saints even.
The Saltdogs grabbed the lead again in the eighth. Bennett and Smith each singled before Nathaniel Maggio came to the plate with two outs. The slumping first baseman notched an infield single to load the bases for Randolph Oduber. The second-year Saltdog smoked a bases-clearing double down the left field line to give Lincoln the 7-4 lead.
The Saints did not go quietly in the bottom of the ninth. Jose, the Saltdogs closer, had allowed just one run in his last 13 appearances but surrendered leadoff singles to the Saints. Then, Dante Bichette Jr. grounded to second base but shortstop Christian Ibarra mishandled the toss preventing a double play. The next batter popped out to bring up Matt Snyder. The lefty grounded to first base but Jose dropped the ball when covering first base. That put the tying run at first base for Anthony Phillips, who singled in a run. Ibarra made an error trying to get pinch runner Luke Pettersen at second base, allowing the tying run to advance to third. Finally, Kyle Barrett hit a slow grounder to the third base side of the mound. Jose fielded and got Barrett at first by a half step to end the game.
The Saltdogs are 12-1 in one-run games and 18-0 when leading after eight innings. Smith extended his hit streak to a season-high eight games and Oduber notched his sixth doubled in 16 games. Bennett has six RBIs in four games with the Saltdogs.
Lincoln tries to clinch the series win on Saturday night. First pitch is at 7:05 PM with coverage beginning at 6:35 PM on ESPN 101.5 FM 1480 AM and http://www.espn1480.com/lincoln-saltdogs-baseball/.