FARGO, N.D. — Doug Simunic had two predictions prior to the start of Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the opening round Northern League playoff series between his Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
By night’s end, the Fargo manager had batted .500 in his prognostications.
Yes, he was dead-on when he predicted errors in the field would be a decisive factor in this series, as a miscue by RedHawks shortstop Zach Penprase in the seventh inning turned what would have been an inning-ending double play into a four-run outburst by the Goldeyes en route to a 7-3 win and a 1-0 series lead.
"If you start booting the ball around and making mistakes," Simunic had said just hours earlier, "that lends itself to a bad inning. That’s when they put a crooked number up against you."
Check for Simmy.
But where Simunic hopelessly missed was when he suggested that there were no lingering hard feelings from his now immortalized punch to the chops of Goldeyes coach Tim Vaeth during a regular-season game in Winnipeg back on Aug. 17.
"What happened a couple of weeks ago," said Simunic, "isn’t even on my radar."
He forgot to tell his ballclub. Which is why just three innings into the game, both dugouts and both bullpens had emptied over what seemed like relatively innocuous contact at first base between Goldeyes centre-fielder Cory Patton and Hawks first baseman Ruben Salazar.
Patton was running out a grounder that Salazar tried to dig out of the dirt after a wild throw from third baseman Jeremiah Piepkorn. The Goldeyes player ran into Salazar as he ran through first base and the big Venezuelan went down like an Italian soccer player.
Patton went on to second base, Goldeyes shortstop Mark Minicozzi scored all the way from first to give the Fish a 2-0 lead and Salazar’s pride, if nothing else, was hurt.
He came up finger-pointing, some words were exchanged around the diamond and as Salazar headed towards second base to discuss the matter further with Patton, the benches and dugouts emptied.
This time, no punches were exchanged and melee was quickly defused. But a tone for this series had also been set in what Fish manager Rick Forney saw as good old-fashioned hard-nose baseball.
"Ruben wasn’t too happy about what happened," said Forney. "You wouldn’t be either.
"Cory’s a small guy but he weighs 215 pounds."
Take away the five runs Winnipeg unofficially scored off Fargo errors in this game and this was actually a classic September matchup between these two clubs.
Goldeyes starter Bear Bay was solid, going 6 1/3 innings, giving up just four hits and two runs to reward his manager’s confidence for giving him the ball in Game 1. "Rick knows I will compete," Bay said. "He knows what he’ll get from me every outing."
Goldeyes DH Juan Diaz, who led the Northern League in home runs this season, needed just one at-bat to get his first of the post-season, stroking a solo shot in the second inning.
But the real long-ball damage came in the seventh inning when, with the Fish holding a 4-2 lead, Goldeyes right-fielder Kevin West made the Hawks pay for Penprase’s error, stroking a three-run homer to left-centre as part of a four-run inning.
West had been mired in a three-week hitting slump but Forney saw the breakout coming just moments before West swung the bat.
"I was talking to (first base coach) Rudy (Arias) and I said ‘Rudy, it’s getting ready to happen, the power of positive thinking,’ " said Forney.
"And sure enough, (West) got into one. Maybe I should say it more often."
Happy to oblige, said West. "I don’t care if I get any hits," said the Floridian. "We’re just trying to win some games around here."
Game 2 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. The Fish will send 36-year-old left-hander Bill Pulsipher (4-2, 3.35) to the mound against right-hander Gary Bakker (7-7, 6.26) for the Hawks.