“What a year, what a ballpark, what a squad,” echoed throughout Lowertown St. Paul on Monday afternoon. The St. Paul Saints’ public address announcer closed out a historic regular season with this final announcement that was as appropriate as it was simple.
The nearly 5,000 fans still in attendance for the final out of the Saints’ 11-2 victory over New Jersey rose to celebrate a run that included 74 wins, a division championship and numerous franchise records. The record-breaking campaign earned the Saints their first postseason berth since 2011 for a first-round matchup against Sioux City.
The best-of-five series that opens Wednesday night in Iowa will feature the two winningest teams in the history of the current rendition of the American Association. Together, the Saints (74-26) and Explorers (75-25) combined for 149 regular-season victories. The series returns to St. Paul for Game 3 on Saturday night.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Saints manager George Tsamis said after capping off his best season in 13 years with the organization. “We had some good years … but this has been outstanding — 74-26 is unreal.
“From Day 1, the players have been getting it done. They get the big hits. The starting pitching has been excellent. The back of the bullpen has been excellent. We’ve played great defense all year long.”
The Saints swept their first series of the season and maintained first place in the North Division throughout the 100-game season. They didn’t lose a series until nearly three months into the season and clinched the division title in early August.
The momentum never let up in a season that produced 11 club records and a 9-1 record through the final 10 games of the season.
Alonzo Harris stole a record 39 bases. The 74 wins and 104 home runs are team records. The Saints pitching staff is just the second in American Association history with four double-digit winners. The pitching staff’s 3.24 ERA set a record. Kramer Sneed’s 15 wins tied an American Association record. Willie Argo’s 78 runs scored, Vinny DiFazio’s and Angelo Songco’s 82 RBI each, the team’s .980 field percentage, the 38 home and 36 road wins all are franchise records.
“I’m just glad we’re all pitching in together. It’s not just one guy that is breaking records. Even our attendance this year is a new record.” Saints catcher DiFazio said. “It’s been a really special year, but nothing would complete it like a championship.
“We all had the same goal in mind [entering the season]. Work hard and take advantage of these beautiful facilities and try to win a championship.”
The players and coaching staff are the first to credit the new CHS Field for aiding their success. DiFazio, who played four years of affiliated baseball, said this is the best facility he’s ever played in. From the weight room, batting cage, food and clubhouse attendants and the trainers, everything is at your disposal, he said.
These amenities attracted top talent to fill out the Saints’ roster and fans to fill the seats. CHS Field welcomed 405,528 fans, more than 105,000 better than the franchise’s previous record, in its first season in the stadium.
“This is my fourth season [with the Saints], and I’ve never been on a team like this that can pitch and hit,” Saints starting pitcher Robert Coe said after picking up his 12th win Monday.
“I knew getting a new stadium, and with all the transactions [Tsamis] made last year to bring in some guys because we wanted to have a good year in the new stadium, that we’d be good. I didn’t think we’d be this good, record-breaking good.
“This year, I think it’s more about coming and watching a great team play with a mix of the antics in-between innings. I think the fans love it.”
Relief pitcher Mike Zouzalik was part of a record-breaking 73 regular-season wins and an American Association championship with Wichita last season but is thankful for the trade that brought him to St. Paul this season. He sees the same makeup in the Saints that he did in his championship team a year ago.
The Saints topped Wichita’s regular-season win record by a game, but Central champ Sioux City bested the Saints by a game.
“We wanted that record, but it’s just a record. The main thing is to get that ring,” Zouzalik said. “All year, we never had to press. We just play our game with confidence and we know we’re going to win.”