SIOUX CITY — A loss in Game 1 of the American Association championship series certainly wasn’t what the Sioux City Explorers wanted, opening the best-of-five matchup with a home game at Lewis and Clark Park.
Nonetheless, the Explorers had to feel fortunate this was only one game after the St. Paul Saints walloped them 12-3 in a runaway victory Wednesday night.
Now, the X’s have to hope they can bounce back like they did in the playoff semifinals, following up a first-game loss to the Kansas City T-Bones with three wins in a row.
“It’s one game,’’ said X's manager Steve Montgomery. “You can’t panic or anything. They hit balls where we weren’t and offensively we didn’t do much. And it’s a little concerning. They scored at will and on the offensive side we didn’t hit many balls hard. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and make some adjustments.’’
Riding the adrenaline of a series-deciding 9-7 victory Tuesday night over the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, St. Paul scored in each of the first six innings, pulling away to an 11-1 advantage with four runs in the sixth frame.
The Explorers, who looked to have an advantage with two days off since they finished off the T-Bones Sunday night, looked flat as a pancake, pitching poorly, swinging the bats just as poorly and failing to take advantage of 10 walks issued by St. Paul pitchers.
Second baseman Josh Allen, hitting sixth in the order, led the Saints’ 16-hit siege with a 5-for-5 performance while No. 7 hitter Chesny Young had a 3-for-4 evening, driving in three runs. Sioux City was limited to five hits and after collecting just seven earned runs while going 2-4 in the season series the X’s added only one more earned run in this one.
“We’ve got to figure their pitching staff out,’’ said Montgomery. “We’ve just gotta figure out a way of putting pressure on them and scoring.’’
Michael Lang, Sioux City’s all-time leader in hits before being traded to St. Paul on July 28, got his new team going with a one-out triple in the top of the first, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Brady Shoemaker, the first of three in the game for the visitors.
The second of these made it 2-0 in the second inning after Jeremy Martinez drew a leadoff walk, moved up on a base hit by Josh Allen and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Young.
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St. Paul batted around in a three-run third as X’s starter Eric Karch, coming off eight shutout innings in an 11-0 Game 2 win over Kansas City last Thursday, retired only one of the first seven batters he faced in the inning. Dan Motel’s double started it off and the Saints got four hits and a walk to make it a 5-0 contest.
Motel also started the fourth inning with a base hit before two walks loaded the bases and John Silviano delivered the third St. Paul sacrifice fly.
Allen opened the fifth with the third of his five singles and Young moved him to third with a double before Chris Baker’s high chopper to the shortstop sent the score to 7-1.
Four more hits, a walk and a hit batsman contributed to the four-run sixth before the Saints were held scoreless for the first time all night on a 1-2-3 inning for reliever Juan Aguilera.
Karch lasted only three innings, surrendering six runs on eight hits while his counterpart, Landon Beck, a reliever for most of his career worked around five walks to allow only one run before exiting after a four-inning start.
A bases loaded walk to Drew Stankiewicz got the Explorers on the board in the fourth inning, but the only subsequent scoring for the X’s came on two unearned runs in the seventh, when a base hit and two walks loaded the bases before an error on the Saints’ first baseman.
St. Paul, which is playing in its 10th league championship series, has four titles to its credit, but all four came in the old Northern League, the most recent of those in 2004. This was the first time since their inaugural 1993 season that the Saints have scored seven or more runs in a playoff road game.
After Game 2 Thursday night here, the teams have a travel day Friday before the remaining games necessary to determine a champion unfold in St. Paul.
The Saints have reached the American Association finals four times previously without winning a title. They were turned away just last year, when Kansas City dispatched them in four games.