Before it all started, both managers said a mistake would be the deciding factor in the American Association semifinal between the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
That is exactly what came to pass at Shaw Park on Friday night before a crowd of 5,025, as the Goldeyes defeated the RedHawks 4-1 to sweep the best-of-five series 3-0.
With Fargo leading 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, RedHawks first baseman Marcos Rodriguez let a Kyle Day grounder roll through his legs, resulting in two runs en route to a four-run inning. That was all the offence Winnipeg needed.
The Fish will now meet the Wichita Wingnuts, who swept their series with the Laredo Lemurs, clinching Friday night with an 8-2 victory.
The best-of-five league championship series opens with Games 1 and 2 on Tuesday and Wednesday in Winnipeg.
It was the third straight come-from-behind win in the series for the Goldeyes, who got into the playoffs as the wild-card entry, while Fargo, which tied a regular-season record for wins with 65, was the North Division champion and finished 10 games ahead of Winnipeg.
"It’s so sweet, especially against that team. It’s just this group our guys, man, we just never quit. We were down again and had to come back. Hats off to those (Goldeyes) guys," said third baseman Amos Ramon, who played for the Goldeyes in 2006 when the team lost in the first round to Fargo. "I was with them (Goldeyes) in 2006 when we were so close (lost to Fargo). I’ve been there when you’re up 2-0 and you lose it. But not today."
Goldeyes starter Matt Rusch recorded the win, allowing just one run on eight hits in seven innings. Brian Beuning recorded his third straight save.
It is the first playoff series victory for Goldeyes manager Rick Forney, who has led the team to the playoffs six times in his seven years as manager.
"We’ve come close so many times, there’s been so many heartbreaking defeats for our team. I think we’ve lost the Game 5 three times, had so many things go against us, some bad hops or breaks that kept us from pushing over the hump," Forney said. "We beat a really good team today, that’s a hell of a team over there. That’s the best Fargo team I’ve seen in 10 years. They’re that good so that kind of says something about my team. For us to perform the way that we did, we should be proud of ourselves."
RedHawks manager Doug Simunic has won six championships in his 17 seasons at the helm and has taken his team to the playoffs 15 times.
Fargo catcher Ryan Delgado’s single in the top of the first scored centre-fielder Nic Jackson, who got aboard on a double. Fargo led 1-0 until the fourth.
The Goldeyes loaded the bases in the fourth on a leadoff single by Barbaro Canizares, a walk to Josh Mazzola, a sacrifice bunt by Luis Alen and an intentional walk to Mike Coles. After two runs scored on Rodriguez’s error, a single to shallow right by Amos Ramon scored Coles and Day.
The Goldeyes looked sharp defensively, especially in the fifth. Fargo’s Carlo Cota had taken a big lead from second base after getting aboard on a double, when first baseman Mazzola caught a line drive by Buddy Sosnoskie and then doubled up Cota on a quick throw to shortstop Price Kendall at second base.
"We see them almost every year, they’re a thorn in our side and we’re a thorn in their side. It’s definitely a pretty good rivalry," said Goldeyes reliever Zach Baldwin, in his fifth Goldeyes season. He retired one batter in the eighth. "We have a bunch of high-character guys on this team. The core group in there is veteran guys and we know how to play together."
Diamond Dust: Goldeyes second baseman Yurendell de Caster was presented with the Goldeyes’ "Tear the Cover Off the Baseball" award for leading the Goldeyes with a .327 batting average during the regular season.