Optimism, often unfounded, is a rite of spring in baseball.
It’s fair to remove that caveat for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, who returned from a marathon season-starting road trip and gave their fans multiple reasons for another optimistic outlook for 2013.
Monday night’s home opener that included the 2012 American Association championship banner-raising produced a 4-1 victory over the previously unbeaten Laredo Lemurs, sending the Goldeyes to 9-2 early in the American Association season.
"It’s awesome, especially battling some adversity," said Monday’s hitting hero, Winnipeg left-fielder Tim Smith. "We were gone for a long time.
"We got in early this morning, and for the boys to pull it out today showed that we’ve got each others’ backs. This wasn’t an easy schedule for the home opener.
"I’m happy we got it done."
Smith’s sixth-inning double over the bag at first cashed two runs and made a winner out of starting pitcher Matt Rusch, who’s now 3-0 in the young season.
Rusch shut down some big bats — the Lemurs had five players hitting over .300 entering the game — by allowing just one run on four hits in six innings.
"We knew they were swinging it well, that they’d make a lot of contact," Rusch said, his ERA this season remaining at a very smart 1.50. "I was just trying to be aggressive and keep it down in the zone and not make too many mistakes up high.
"It ended up costing me a bit with some walks (two) and battling my command, but overall I think we did a great job of attacking them low."
Rusch came out of the game after the Goldeyes put three runs up in their half of the sixth.
"I’ve got to say it, I think we’ve got a good squad here, very comparable to last year," said Rusch, who was 10-4 for the Fish last season. "Some timely hitting and the bullpen’s been phenomenal. I don’t want to jinx them or anything but they’ve been throwing really, really well to this point."
The Goldeyes’ bullpen faced only 10 batters over the final three innings, keeping the fire out before it started.
The margin of victory came off the bats of Smith and Amos Ramon in that helpful sixth inning.
Smith took an inside change-up from Laredo starter David Newmann and bounced it over the bag at first and into the Lemurs’ bullpen for two runs, then Ramon’s single sent Smith home for the fourth Winnipeg run.
"After the wild pitch (which advanced runners to second and third), I was kind of looking for something I could put to the outfield," Smith said. "He threw a good pitch, a change-up, which is pretty rare (lefty vs. lefty), and I chased it.
"I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise, helped me calm down and just see the ball. It was going back to fundamentals, saw the ball going a little slower.
"It was an inside pitch. I tried to do what I could to keep it fair. Obviously you can always get better wood on everything but I’m just happy it went through and some runs scored."
Smith said the optimism for this season is well-founded, given the effort the Goldeyes’ assembled against the league’s only undefeated team until Monday.
"We were aware of the undefeated season they had so far and it makes you want the win more, you want to be the first team to give them that loss.
"We wanted to be those guys."