A walk-off home run crushed over the left-field wall in the bottom of the 10th inning by designated hitter Barbaro Canizares lifted the Winnipeg Goldeyes to a 5-4 win in the first game of the American Association baseball championship on Tuesday night at Shaw Park.
Winnipeg, chasing their first championship since winning the Northern League title in their inaugural season of 1994, took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series against Wichita, the Central division champion.
"I feel so good that I was able to help the team win. Earlier in the game I was struggling a little bit," said Canizares, who only speaks Spanish, speaking through Goldeyes second baseman Yurendell de Caster.
Brian Beuning was the winning pitcher before a crowd of 5,117 with Wingnuts’ reliever Josh Dew taking the loss.
Game 2 will be played at Shaw Park on Wednesday at 7 p.m. with lefties Chris Salamida of Winnipeg and Ryan Hinson of Wichita taking the mound. The final three games are set for Wichita’s Lawrence Dumont Stadium on Friday and, if necessary, Saturday and Sunday.
"The (opposing) pitcher’s not left with much choice except to attack the strike zone right there and unfortunately for him, he elevated and that big guy got the barrel to it," Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said of the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Canizares. Forney is looking for his first championship in 21 seasons of professional baseball as a player and a manager. "I was pretty excited. This is good stuff, man. This is what you live for, to see things like this."
Goldeyes starting pitcher Ace Walker said getting the first win builds confidence.
"Huge, huge, huge (to get the first win), especially here at home," said Walker, who exited after 118 pitches in 5.1 innings after allowing three runs on seven hits, four walks and one strikeout in his final start at Shaw Park in his fifth Goldeyes season. "I can’t even hardly talk right now, my voice is hurting so much. Complete exhilaration and it’s a high I’ve never had."
Winnipeg scored first, unlike all three games in their semifinal series sweep of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, but still found themselves battling back from behind three times to tie the score.
"There’s times you have to tip your hat. They just kept battling, grinding it out, and coming back, putting one up when we got one," said Wichita manager Kevin Hooper. "This is it, this is do-or-die time. You’ve got to have a short memory in this game a lot of times. You’ve got to get over it quick because tomorrow’s a big game just like today was."
The Goldeyes led 1-0 after scoring Canizares with bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning on a Kyle Day fielder’s choice.
Wichita responded in the top of the third inning with two out when third baseman Greg Porter drove in a pair of runs for a 2-1 Wingnuts lead. In the bottom of the inning, Winnipeg shortstop Price Kendall tied the score 2-2 when he scored on Josh Mazzola’s bases-loaded walk.
The Wingnuts took a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth on a single by right-fielder David Peralta, who was 3-for-3 at that point.
Josh Mazzola hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth and then scored to tie the game 3-3 on right-fielder Mike Coles’s single.
In the top of the eighth inning, Wichita took a 4-3 lead on a single by nine-hole hitter Steve Stanley. Winnipeg tied the game (4-4) for a third time in the bottom of the eighth on a two-out double by Day who drove in Coles.