It’s official: the Winnipeg Goldeyes will face the Lincoln Saltdogs in the first round of the American Association playoffs.
The Fish dealt the deciding blow themselves on Sunday night, when they pounded out an 18-5 win over the visiting Gary SouthShore RailCats. The loss severed the RailCats’ last hope of scratching their way to the Central Division championship, and its attendant playoff berth. The Saltdogs are now the Central champions, and will rumble into Winnipeg to kick off the post-season Wednesday at Shaw Park.
Perhaps the Fish were enjoying the mischief of playing spoilers for old rivals. Perhaps they were just gunning hot — to the tune of four home runs — while the desperate RailCats fell apart. Either way, the game never really got going for Gary, while the Goldeyes surged right out of the gate.
The game was delayed from its original matinee, as a drizzling rain coated Winnipeg through the afternoon. Whether dismayed by the weather — or locked to the Bombers’ performance in the Labour Day Classic — most fans stayed home: though the stated attendance was just over 5,000, fewer were at Shaw Park when the first pitch flew at 6 p.m.
Those who did come out to the game were treated to a show. While late-season addition Ryan Bollinger kept the RailCats mostly neutered — he allowed seven hits, three runs and two walks through six innings on the mound — the Fish batters struck early and often. The RailCats cycled through five pitchers in an attempt to stop the bleeding, and all of them got burned for multiple runs.
For Gary, it just all started wrong. In the first inning, rookie starter Stephen Bougher walked Fish second baseman Brock Bond to lead off, then coughed up three consecutive hits that led to three runs. Third baseman Jake Blackwood banged an RBI double, shortstop Tyler Kuhn followed him with another one, and first baseman Casey Haerther drove Kuhn home with a base hit of his own.
Bougher got pulled after that first frame, but it didn’t help the RailCats’ fortunes. The ‘Cats and Fish traded single scores in the third; in the fourth, Blackwood padded the Goldeyes lead with a solo home run, his 10th of the season.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth that the Goldeyes really ran wild. They stomped out a whopping seven runs in that frame, smacking around RailCats relievers Ethan Gibbons and Andy Loomis. It started when Blackwood scored two with a booming double; it continued as outfielder Reggie Abercrombie sent his 18th home run zooming out of Shaw Park to score another two. Not to be outdone, designated hitter Josh Mazzola followed shortly thereafter with a two-run shot of his own, his 16th homer of the season.
The RailCats struggled to get back in the game after that, picking up a couple more runs off of tiring Fish starter Bollinger, and two more off of reliever Kaohi Downing, to narrow the gap to 12-5. The Goldeyes quickly came back with four more runs in the bottom of the eighth, three of them off a monster Haerther home run. The Goldeyes added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth to round out the scoring. By the time the final out was recorded, the RailCats looked simply defeated, peppering the bottom of the eighth with stumbles and misfires.
In the final accounting, every Fish batter got at least one base hit. Blackwood finished with the finest line, going four-for-five with a home run, three doubles and five RBI, hauling his season average up to a shiny .319. Kuhn was two-for-five with two runs and three RBI, while catcher Jordan Guida (in tonight to give Fish veteran Luis Alen a break) went three-for-four. Second baseman Bond was one-for-two with a walk and two runs, before he got hit by a pitch late in the game. He came out then, and was replaced at the plate by Alen.
The Goldeyes finish off their season at home at 7 p.m. on Monday night, with one last game against the RailCats. Nick Hernandez will handle pitching duties for the Fish. They’ll then get a one-day break, before kicking off the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday and Thursday at Shaw Park. They’ll finish off the best-of-five series in Nebraska over the weekend, as needed.