Despite three home runs by St. Paul's Willie Cabrera, the Winnipeg Goldeyes hung on to win a huge game on Tuesday night.
Thanks to a strong start by Nick Hernandez, a homer and three hits from Jake Blackwood and a big save from Brendan Lafferty, the Goldeyes beat the St. Paul Saints 6-4 to win the first game of an important three-game series in front of 5,521 at Shaw Park.
With the victory, the Goldeyes won their second straight game and improved to 49-32 on the season. More importantly, they dropped the Saints to 44-35, as first-place Winnipeg took a four-game lead over the Saints in the race for first in the American Association's North Division.
"You try to treat every game like it's just another game but you could tell by the look in some of the guys eyes in the clubhouse that that game was a little more important," said Hernandez, who went eight-plus innings, allowing four runs on just five hits.
"We've worked too hard for almost 80 games to let this lead slip away. We want to win every game we can, but this game was a little extra special because it guarantees that we'll still be in first place no matter what happens when St. Paul leaves town."
The Saints opened the scoring in the top of the first, as Willie Cabrera hit his first of three home runs on the night, but the Goldeyes answered with two in the bottom of the first and never looked back.
Brock Bond led off with a walk, Jake Blackwood singled and Tyler Kuhn walked to lad the bases. After Casey Haerther struck out, Reggie Abercrombie singled to drive in Bond and then Donnie Webb lined out to centre and his sacrifice fly scored Blackwood.
The Goldeyes made it 4-1 in the fifth, as Ryan Pineda and Blackwood hit solo homers. Cabrera hit his second solo homer of the game to make it 4-2 in the top of the sixth, but the Goldeyes answered in the bottom half of the inning as Luis Alen singled home Abercrombie.
In the seventh, the Goldeyes made it 6-2, as Kuhn's sacrifice fly drove home Bond from third, but in the ninth Cabrera drove Hernandez from the game with his third homer of the night, a two-run shot that made the score 6-4 and made the game very interesting.
"The first at bat, I threw a change on 2-1 and he hit it out," said Hernandez. "In his third at bat, I threw him a real good pitch and he hit it the other way. I even asked Luis (Alen) and he thought it was a good pitch. He just got the best of me on that one. The final at bat, I threw him the 2-1 change again and he got the best of me again. Now I know what not to throw him."
Hernandez (9-2, 3.58 ERA) got the victory, while Saints starter Anthony Claggett (5-5, 2.99 ERA), the starter for the North team in the All-Star game last month, took the loss. Brendan Lafferty (2.48 ERA) picked up his third save of the season for the Goldeyes.
The Goldeyes and Saints will play Game 2 of this three-game series on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Shaw Park. Matt Jackson (8-6, 4.13 ERA) will get the start for the Goldeyes, while Robert Coe (5-6, 6.72 ERA) will head to the bump for St. Paul.