Things got a little hairy at Shaw Park on Wednesday night and we're not just talking about Winnipeg Goldeyes pitcher Chris Salamida's Grizzly Adams playoff beard.
The Goldeyes scored first, fell behind and then battled back on the bat of Amos Ramon, who drove in the game-winning run with a three-run home run in the sixth inning to lift Winnipeg to a 7-3 win over the Wichita Wingnuts.
With the win, Winnipeg took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American Association championship series.
"I had a couple good outings about two months ago so I started it and hadn't had a bad enough outing to shave it and now with the playoffs, there's no reason to cut it," said Salamida, sporting the largest blond beard he's ever had. "Hopefully we can go in there Friday, with Matt Rusch on the mound, in my opinion we'll have the best pitcher in the league out there. And if one hitter's not doing it, the next hitter is picking each other up and that's what it's about. We're all out there playing our hearts out."
While Salamida got the victory, steely-nerved reliever Brian Beuning got the third out in the ninth, staring down a full count and bases loaded to record his fourth save of the playoffs.
Winnipeg was trailing 3-2 when Ramon belted a two-out, three-run home run over the left-field wall. Ramon's dinger scored first baseman Josh Mazzola, who got aboard with a lead-off single, and right-fielder Mike Coles, who got on after being hit in the right leg by a pitch.
Ramon hit a two-run homer in Winnipeg's 4-2 semifinal win in the first game in Fargo last week. He has eight RBI in the playoffs.
Centre-fielder Chris Roberson put the exclamation point on Wednesday's win, driving in a pair of runs in the eighth with a single to the deep corner of right field.
"We've got the momentum and we have to take full control of that, we've got Rusch going and keep it rolling," said Roberson who had three hits, including a double and a stolen base.
Ramon had two hits including the home run, and scored a pair of runs in addition to his three RBI.
"Just like that dirty dog in the corner, you can't lie low (near him) because he still might bite you. They're going to scrap."
All of Winnipeg's runs were scored with two out.
Winnipeg scored first for the second straight night, picking up a run in the first inning when second baseman Yurendell de Caster crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
The Wingnuts were quick to reply in the second inning with a three-run home run by catcher Jesse Mier.
In the third inning, Goldeyes first baseman Josh Mazzola drew a bases-loaded walk for the second straight night, which brought the Goldeyes within one trailing 3-2.
Wichita is slated to host the next three games beginning Friday and, if necessary, Saturday and Sunday. In Game 3, right-handed pitchers Matt Rusch of Winnipeg and Derek Blacksher of Wichita are expected to start.
"We played a great baseball again. We were a little bit loose and sloppy with our location early in the game but we certainly settled down and played a great baseball game the last six innings of it," said manager Rick Forney. "I'm just proud of the guys. Everybody seems to be coming through when that opportunity presents itself."
Should the Goldeyes go on to win the championship, it would be the first for a professional sports team in Winnipeg since 1994, when the Goldeyes won a league title in their inaugural season in the now-defunct Northern League.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who lost in last year's Grey Cup game, last won the Grey Cup in 1990.
The Manitoba Moose never did win the Turner Cup in the International Hockey League or the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League, while the NHL's Winnipeg Jets have yet to win the Stanley Cup. The WHA Jets won the last of their three Avco Cups in 1979.
"It means a lot to us to give the city something to cheer about. We've been dying for a championship in this city. The Bombers were so close last year and now that we have the Jets here, sports is even bigger here," said Ramon, the Goldeyes third baseman who has made Winnipeg home the past three years as his wife is from Winnipeg. "If we can bring this home, it would be unbelievable for the city and the province, not just for us."
It's the eighth time a Goldeyes team has gone to a championship final, including seven previous trips in the former Northern League, but the first time since joining the AA last year.
DIAMOND DUST: It was a busy moving day Wednesday for Goldeyes players. Since the series is moving to Wichita, most of the players won't be coming back to Winnipeg and will just head to their respective off-season homes after the last game. The team bus was loaded to the roof when it pulled out after Wednesday night's game for the 15-hour bus ride to Wichita.
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