Saints hit 3 homeruns, win 8-1 on opening day

By Joe Peine
Posted 4/3/24

The Saint Paul Saints won their home opener on Saturday evening defeating the Columbus Clippers at CHS Field in St. Paul’s Lowertown by a score of 8-1.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief; …

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Saints hit 3 homeruns, win 8-1 on opening day


The Saint Paul Saints won their home opener on Saturday evening defeating the Columbus Clippers at CHS Field in St. Paul’s Lowertown by a score of 8-1.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief; baseball is back.

In what was supposed to be a three-game series, Friday night’s game was cancelled due to field conditions at the stadium from the storms earlier in the week. This set up a Saturday evening opening day game, and in the team’s first taste of regular season action, the Saints blew out the Cleveland Guardians AAA affiliate.

Saint Paul’s runs came in bunches early behind a pair of three-run homers. Alex Isola got the first one in the bottom of the second with one out when he turned on a fastball on the inside part of the plate and took it 393 feet to center field. The next came off the bat of Yoyner Fajardo in the fourth when he took an 0-1 slider at the top zone 384 feet to deep center field as the Saints jumped out to a 6-0 lead.  

The last homer of the game came from Minnesota Twins alum Jose Miranda when he led off the bottom half of the seventh inning with a 433-foot moon shot to left center field.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff behind Twins top-5 prospect David Festa and Twins veteran Randy Dobnak combined to throw a gem, giving up just one run on three scattered hits between them.

Standing at 6’6”, Festa is an imposing figure on the mound with a fastball in the mid-90s and excellent body control. He got the nod for the opening day start and pitched three shutout innings while throwing four strikeouts. Unfortunately, he struggled a bit with control, issuing three free passes and throwing just 26 of his 49 pitches for strikes before exiting the game with a 3-0 lead ahead of the fourth inning.

Dobnak, who was supposed to start Friday night’s game, was then called upon to handle the middle inning, bulk relief duties instead, and he performed admirably, racking up six K’s in four innings of 1-run ball. He threw 33 of his 56 pitches for strikes and earned the opening day win in the process.

After Dobnak came former top prospect Jordan Balazovic, who converted to being a full-time reliever last season before he got called up to the Twins. Given the eighth inning duties, Balazovic sat the Clippers down in order including two strikeouts and topping out at almost 95 mph on his fastball.

Journeyman hurler Scott Thomas Blewett came in for the ninth inning to protect the 8-1 lead, and he too retired the Clippers in order to finish out the opening day win.

It was a tumultuous few days leading up to first pitch for Saints Manager Toby Gardenhire as Twins switch hitting #2 prospect Brooks Lee got injured and remained in Fort Myers to rehabilitate and work towards getting healthy enough to return to game action. Then, Twins third baseman Royce Lewis was injured in their first game of the season resulting in top prospect Austin Martin getting the call, departing St. Paul for Kansas City just hours before what should have been their opening day game at CHS Field.

“I mean, that's an everyday thing around here in AAA. We watch the big league games every day, and things happen. So, we’re always trying to get guys ready to send up there,” Gardenhire said. “There's a bunch guys that might get the call. Camargo and Yunior Severino. DaShawn Keirsey is a big one. Michael Helman; I think he has a big chance to get up there. We have a lot. We have more prospects than we've had in the past few years, so we’ve got a young roster that's really talented.”

Miranda is no longer a prospect, and after hitting .320 in spring training with nearly a .400 OBP, he’s a guy that the Saints are excited about.

“We already know what Jose can do, we’ve seen it. We’ve just got to keep him rolling like that, and he should be back up helping the team,” Gardenhire said. “That was a great swing he had tonight, and he just missed a couple other ones. I thought he was on the ball all night, just like he was all spring.”

Miranda, who dealt with a shoulder injury at the end of last season, says he’s completely healthy, and he’s ready to play wherever the Twins need him if he gets called up.

“It’s good to be back. Being healthy gets me pretty happy, obviously, and I’m excited to be in the field playing. And hitting, I love hitting. So, it's been fun to be back,” Miranda said.

After a great showing in spring, Miranda kept it rolling with a homer in his first game of the year at CHS Field which he says was a no doubter as soon as it left his bat.

“I knew I got it,” Miranda said. “It was a good swing on a slider over the middle. So, good contact, good swing and I know when I got it good.”

Nobody was more pleased about the Saints’ offense than the Saints’ defense, which included a great performance by Dobnak, who says he’s always at his best when he gets ahead in the count early.

“When you get ahead of guys, it's usually like you get into a rhythm. Get ahead of him, put him away,” Dobnak said. “Once you fall behind on guys, they get more selective and kind of look for pitches that they want to hit. So, my game plan was to attack those guys and let the pitches do the work.”

All those pitches were working for him on Saturday as worked in a long relief role and earned the win.

“Tonight I had a lot of groundouts, and that's always a good sign for me that my pitches are doing what they're supposed to be doing,” Dobnak said. “I’m a ground ball pitcher, so when they pound the ball into the ground early in the at bat, sweet, because that's my game plan. I’m trying throw the least amount of pitches I can.”

With their first homestand now in the books, the Saints will travel to Nashville to play a six-game series against the Sounds, the Milwaukee Brewers AAA affiliate. Their next homestand comes the following week from April 9-14 against the redundantly named Iowa Cubs, the northside of Chicago’s AAA team. There are events and giveaways all week long including Thirsty Thursday’s discounts on adult beverages and Taylor Swift night on Friday when they will be spinning her biggest hits during the postgame fireworks.

As always, a full list of family friendly promotions, giveaways and events can be found on the Saints website.

Saint Paul Saints, Columbus Clippers, CHS Field, home opener, baseball