For the third time in four seasons, the St. Paul Saints have qualified for the American Association playoffs after rallying to beat Winnipeg 3-2 on Tuesday night.
They entered the night needing a win and for the Chicago Dogs to beat the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. The Dogs were happy to oblige, beating the RedHawks 7-3 at Newman Outdoor Field to ensure that playoff baseball will be coming to St. Paul.
Winnipeg held a 2-0 lead entering the top of the ninth inning, and after Dan Motl flew out to right field for the first out it looked like the Saints would have to wait at least one more night to clinch a playoff spot. Brady Shoemaker stepped up to the plate and doubled to center field to keep the Saints within reach, scoring moments later when Zach Walters hit a home run to tie the game.
After Dante Bichette Jr. popped out to the second baseman, Justin O’Conner stepped up to the plate and put the first pitch that he saw into the seats to put the Saints up 3-2.
Winnipeg did get a baserunner in the ninth thanks to a leadoff single from Andrew Sohn, but he was retired when Josh Romanski hit into a double play. The game ended when Zack Jones got Grant Heyman to strike out swinging for the third strike.
After the game, it was all eyes on the Redhawks game, where the Dogs had a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. They tacked on two insurance runs in the top of the ninth en route to a 7-3 win, putting the Saints in the playoffs.
The Saints still have a good chance to clinch the North Division title, as they are 2 1/2 games up on the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The magic number for the Saints to clinch the division is down to five, meaning that any combination of five Saints wins and RailCats losses will do the trick.
Winning the division is key, as the division winner gets to choose which games they will host. The American Association playoffs are a best-of-five affair, with one team hosting the first two games and the other team hosting Game 3, as well as the final two games if they end up being needed.
This is the first season of the two-division format that will feature the division winner going up against the second-place team from their division, meaning that the Saints will face either Gary or Fargo-Moorhead in the first round.
Down in the South Division, the Sioux City Explorers are running away with things, having already locked up the division title. The race is for second place, where the Kansas City T-Bones hold just a one-game lead over the Wichita Wingnuts for the wild card spot.