SIOUX CITY – A season-high 18 hits didn’t seem likely on a night when the Sioux City Explorers faced American Association baseball’s winningest pitcher.
Even then, however, it nearly wasn’t enough to subdue the dangerous St. Paul Saints.
Tattooing veteran Mark Hamburger for 15 hits in less than five innings, the X’s wound up needing them all to hang on for a 9-8 victory Friday night at Lewis and Clark Park.
It was the sixth straight game with double-digit hits for a rebuilt Sioux City lineup that has helped manufacture wins in all but one of those contests. The only setback was a 14-inning, 5-4 heartbreaker Wednesday night in the first game of this four-game, two-city series.
With the season’s 13th and final meeting of the 25-year rivals slated for tonight, the Explorers secured the season honors with their seventh win in the first 12 encounters. Three of their five losses to St. Paul had been in Hamburger’s three previous starts against them.
This wasn’t the same Mark Hamburger who led the league with 12 wins last season and came into this outing with two wins more than anyone else this year at 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA ranking 10th in the Association.
“He’s a tough pitcher to grind at,’’ said X’s centerfielder Tony Campana, arguably the fastest player in the league. “He throws the ball around the zone, though, and I think that’s the big thing for us. We are a pretty aggressive team offensively, so if you put it around the zone we’re gonna take a whack at it.’’
Two of Campana’s three hits didn’t get past the pitcher’s mound, but they definitely helped the Explorers follow up a wild 9-7 win Thursday night in St. Paul with nearly an identical verdict in this one.
“You’ve gotta stay on a team like that the whole time,’’ said Campana, a four-year major league veteran who stole 54 bases in two seasons (2011-12) with the Chicago Cubs. “There isn’t any lead that’s safe. They’re dangerous from the front to the bottom.’’
Jayce Ray and Tanner Vavra also had three-hit nights as the Explorers improved to 32-30, topping a pair of 17-hit performances that previously represented the season high.
“You don’t expect that off of Mark Hamburger,’’ said X’s Manager Steve Montgomery. “You see the effects of the 14-inning game. Both teams have spent a lot of pitching in the first three games of this series. You’re just seeing the culmination from when the hitters see more of the pitching they’re gonna know how (the pitchers) are gonna try to get ‘em out.’’
A remarkable start saw the first five Sioux City batters in the game collect base hits, including Joe Bennie’s double off the right-field wall. It was a tribute to Hamburger that all of this led to “only” a three-run first inning.
Three more hits in the second inning was good for just a single run by the X’s, but they opened up a 7-2 advantage with three more runs in the third on four singles and an error.
X’s starter Chris Powell, a reliever in the Dodgers’ farm system who is trying to secure a starting slot, had some tough luck in the fourth inning when third baseman Joel Davis made two errors on a two-out grounder by the Saints’ Maxx Garrett. Booting the bouncer and then making a wild throw, Davis let Garrett reach second base, where he remained until No. 9 hitter Jon Kristoffersen, a .204 hitter, belted a two-run homer.
Powell, who got credit for the win, surrendered a third unearned run after Mitch Delfino’s single and Garrett’s double led off a two-run sixth that chased the starter and pulled the guests within 9-6. Garrett, who was 2-for-3 with a walk and a sacrifice fly on top of that, had gone 3-for-40 in his last 12 games.
St. Paul first baseman Brady Shoemaker, tied with teammate Anthony Gallas with a league-leading 17 home runs, left the game on a diving attempt defensively in the bottom of the fourth. Even without Shoemaker, the Saints’ hiked their league-best home run total to 80 on a two-out blast by Breland Almadova, Shoemaker’s replacement, in the top of the eighth.
Then, in the ninth, closer P.J. Francescon yielded base hits to two of the first three batters he faced. Garrett’s sacrifice fly made it a one-run game, but it was a big second out. Then, Kristoffersen lofted the next pitch for a game-ending fly ball.