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Dukes pitchers keep it close as bats deliver a win

September 5, 2000 Eastern Division Championship Series (Game 3) DULUTH- The Duluth-Superior Dukes made post-season baseball's return to Wade Stadium an exciting one on Tuesday night, clawing their way to emotional 5-4, last-at-bat victory over th...

September 5, 2000
Eastern Division Championship Series (Game 3)
DULUTH- The Duluth-Superior Dukes made post-season baseball's return to Wade Stadium an exciting one on Tuesday night, clawing their way to emotional 5-4, last-at-bat victory over the St. Paul Saints.
The Dukes, who claimed a 2-1 series lead with the win, got to Saints starter Hank Thoms early, as a lead off walk to Duluth-Superior third baseman Eddie Lantigua came back to haunt St. Paul in the bottom of the second inning. A broken-bat single and another walk, this one to Curt Lee, loaded the bases for Dukes center fielder Bernard Caston, who lined a solid base hit to right, scoring Lantigua to give Duluth-Superior an early 1-0 lead.
The Dukes looked poised for a big inning with the bases still loaded and only one out, but St. Paul shortstop Saul Bustos extinguished the rally with a sparkling defensive gem.
Duluth-Superior's Steve Serafin slapped a ground ball up the middle, which Bustos tracked down, and flipped, between his legs, to Saints second baseman John Toven, who completed the inning-ending double play with an accurate throw to first which beat Serafin by a step.
Bustos' play bailed out Thoms in the second, but the Boston Red Sox draft pick pitched himself in to trouble again in the third inning after another lead off walk, this time to Dukes left fielder Greg Morrison.
Light-hitting Dukes catcher Rich Rodrigues delivered his second single of the night following the walk to Morrison, which gave Duluth-Superior a pair of base runners with nobody out. Curt Lee was next up, and he dropped a flawless sacrifice bunt down the third base line to push Morrison and Rodrigues into scoring position. That brought Caston to the plate with an opportunity to increase the Dukes' lead.
And Caston delivered again, this time in a more unconventional manner, slapping a ground ball at Saints first baseman Jesse Ibarra, who stepped on first to record the second out of the inning, then fired to second in an attempt to catch Rodrigues napping.
Bustos took the throw at second, but Morrison broke for home, prompting the shortstop to snap a throw to Saints catcher Steve Hagins. The throw tipped off Hagins' glove and rolled to the screen, allowing Morrison to score the Dukes' second run of the game.
But once again, Thoms wiggled out of trouble, striking out Serafin to end the threat.
The Saints hitters finally solved Dukes starter Joe Montgomery in the fifth inning, climbing back into the game, then into the lead, with four runs.
The rally started with a one-out home run off the bat of Saints left fielder Sam Lee, who drilled a two-ball, two-strike offering from Montgomery over the left field fence.
The blast shook the Dukes starter, who walked the next man he faced, Andy Tarpley on four pitches, before inducing a pop up from John Knott for the second out.
However, Montgomery then walked Ibarra, bringing up Eddie Gerald, who dropped a bloop double into short left field, which scored both St. Paul base runners. Gerald ended up on third base as Morrison's throw to home rattled between Rodriques and Montgomery.
Saints designated hitter Morgan Walker then singled to score Gerald, which gave the Saints a 4-2 lead and ended Montgomery's night.
Duluth-Superior reliever Kalaam Paull closed out the inning, getting Bustos on a comebacker that stranded Walker and ended the rally.
The Dukes hitters were quick to respond, as Anthony Lewis reached base on a fielder's choice following a Tony Mitchell single in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Northern League's triple crown winner, Lewis, eventually scored on a two-out double from Lantigua to shave the Saints lead to 4-3.
Lantigua's double, combined with the left-handed hitting Morrison coming to the plate, prompted Saints manager Marty Scott to lift Thoms in favor of lefty reliever Richard Bell, who struck out Morrison to end the inning.
Paull and Bell traded shutout innings until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Rodrigues shattered the calm with a one-out, solo home run into the screen above Wade Stadium's center field fence.
The blast was the first of the post season for the strong-armed catcher, who was hitting a meager .214 for Duluth-Superior, but has thrown out a remarkable 37.6 percent of attempted base stealers this season.
"He grooved me one on 3-1, and I just took my hack," said Rodrigues. "I'm so happy when I can do that for my pitchers and for the whole team."
Bell went on to strike out Lee, but then allowed a base hit to Caston before being lifted in favor of right-handed reliever Barry Short who struck out Serafin to end the inning.
Paull retired the first two St. Paul hitters in the top of the ninth before giving up back-to-back singles to Tarpley and Knott. Dukes pitching coach Frank Reberger then made his second move to the bullpen, bringing in Dan Guehne, who induced a pop-up off the bat of Ibarra to end the inning. That set the stage for the heart of the Duluth-Superior order in the bottom of the inning.
"Paull had big league stuff tonight," said Reberger. "Guehne came in and got the job done, and Monty (Montgomery) pitched well too. We had a feeling that the ninth inning would be ours."
So did Mitchell and Lewis, who struck out in their seventh-inning at bats and were looking for a bit of revenge against Short in the ninth.
"I had a bad game, but you can't think about the past," said Lewis, who was 0-3 up to that point. "Once Rich (Rodrigues) hit that home run, I told the pitchers we were going to win it in the bottom of the ninth."
Mitchell did his part, drawing a lead off walk, and then Lewis slapped a single through the right side of the infield giving the Dukes a pair of base runners with nobody out.
Dukes manager Benny Castillo then called on Paul Tanner to pinch run, who was erased at third base on a fielder's choice off the bat of Rushford. Lantigua then stepped to the plate with Lewis on second, and whacked a base hit to right that scored the Dukes' first baseman to give Duluth-Superior a 5-4 triumph.
Lewis said he was thinking simply that the game was over as he rounded third base.
"When the ball was hit, I just tried to make a good turn at third," said Lewis. "Once I made that turn, I knew I was safe."
And once he crossed the plate, he proved true to his word, capping Duluth-Superior's 5-4, come-from-behind victory.

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