Entering a road trip that could define their season, the Winnipeg Goldeyes (29-31) got a much-needed boost Sunday in the form of a massive inning that gave them a 12-9 win over the Schaumburg Flyers (23-36).
The Fish entered the eighth inning down 5-2, but shredded the Flyers' bullpen for three home runs, eight hits and two walks on the way to scoring 10 runs in the inning, their most productive offensive outburst this season.
"A 10-run inning is huge, that's something that can build a little bit of momentum," said shortstop Wes Long, who started Sunday's massacre with a single to centre field and followed it nine batters later with a two-run home run that ended up being the game-winner.
"Hitting's very contagious, you know," said manager Rick Forney, trying to explain how a team with only four hits in the first seven innings could suddenly turn into a juggernaut. "There's a lot of guys in this room who kind of feed off everybody else. Wes Long got us started... and then the floodgates kind of opened."
The explosion was led by the team's two all-star batters, Long and first baseman Kevin West. West had a double and a homer in the eighth to go along with another double earlier in the game, finishing with four RBI.
The outburst couldn't have come at a better time for the floundering Fish, who were on the verge of dropping a second-straight home series before heading out on a gruelling road trip that will see them play 10 games in nine days.
"When you're going on a 15-hour bus trip it's always a hell of a lot better to get on the bus after a win," said Long.
"Hopefully it's a bit refreshing for those guys," said Forney. "They're struggling, been pressing a little bit. Maybe reassure them a little bit."
A confidence boost has to be good for a team that hadn't had a lot to cheer about of late, as they finished a seven-game homestand against the Northern League's bottom two teams with a disappointing 3-4 record.
Their soft schedule continues next week, as every team they face on this road trip is behind them in the standings.
However, the Gary SouthShore RailCats are only a half-game back of leapfrogging the Goldeyes for the fourth and final playoff spot.
"This is probably the most important stretch of games that we're going to have all year," said West. "All these teams are right close in the hunt, so we've just got to stay focused on what we've got to do and not let the travel, the bouncing around get to us."
While the prospect of righting the ship on the road might seem daunting, Forney isn't letting that be an excuse.
"It's part of the schedule, you know? You don't really have a lot of control over it. You need to play well at home and on the road, and we've kind of been kissing our sister at both places," he said, referencing the team's less-than-stellar home and road records.
"(This trip) will probably make or break us," said Forney.
THE Fish bullpen had been struggling mightily but seems to have found its groove. In an 9 2/3-inning stretch beginning on Thursday, they only sacrificed one run -- though that streak came to a screeching halt when Corey Bass got lit up for four runs in the ninth by Schaumburg on Sunday -- and were making quick work of the later innings.
"You just gotta get on that roll," said reliever Drew Shetrone, who was sharp on Sunday. "Hopefully that holds on (during the road trip), and we stay strong."