Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Abercrombie clears path to victory

Outfielder plays hero in series-opening win

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

A spattering of rain didn't dampen spirits during the Winnipeg Goldeyes' first playoff game of the season Wednesday against the Lincoln Saltdogs. Saltdogs' #39 Ian Gac warms up the lumber.

In their own fashion, the numbers will describe how Reggie Abercrombie soared in the Goldeyes' wild 6-4 playoff win over Lincoln on Wednesday night.

They will sketch, in the broadest strokes, how the Fish outfielder and former major leaguer went 3-for-4, with three runs and an RBI. They will record forever how, in the first game between the North Division champion Goldeyes and the Central champ Saltdogs, Abercrombie stole three bases without getting caught.

But they can't really capture just how electrifying he was, as he raced around the base baths to stay just ahead of the throw, just clear of an anxious tag. By the end, every time Abercrombie strolled up to the plate, the rowdy but patchy Shaw Park playoff crowd of 4,013 chanted his name.

Nor was he alone, as the Goldeyes rebounded from a ghastly 4-0 opening to wrestle Lincoln into submission. Outfielder Donnie Webb was sublime, swiping a couple of bases of his own and blasting out the third-inning, two-run homer that tied the game. Shortstop Tyler Kuhn did his job of getting on base, going 3-for-5. And though his first inning was rough, starting hurler Chris Salamida recovered to pitch seven scoreless frames, striking out 10 batters along the way.

But none of them sparkled quite as bright as Abercrombie. It makes sense that it was him: through the season, the gregarious outfielder had a way of keeping his teammates grinning in the clubhouse and on the field. He dished out two walk-off home runs during the year. Fans won't soon forget those moments -- just as now, they won't forget how, when the Fish needed a spark on Wednesday night, he defiantly delivered.

It started off so wrong. The Saltdogs swarmed Salamida in the first inning, collecting four runs off a walk and five hits.

The Fish knew letting runners get on base in front of fearsome Saltdogs slugger Ian Gac would be a costly mistake. Still, it didn't take long for them to pay, as Gac smacked an RBI double deep into left field to crack the scoreboard. The crowd groaned, and Salamida struggled to regain control Saltdogs outfielders Brian Joynt and Jeremy Hamilton and shortstop Mike Gilmartin followed with RBI singles of their own. Indeed, all nine Lincoln batters got a try before the third out.

Salamida settled in then, and his hitters rallied in support. In the bottom of the second, with Saltdogs ace Joe Bisenius hurling bullets at the plate, Abercrombie hit a lead-off single, racing to beat the throw to first. He proceeded to steal second while Bisenius was busy walking Webb, and stole third as Josh Mazzola struck out -- that time, with thieving buddy Webb dashing to second close behind. That set up the first Fish score, as Abercrombie raced home on a Ryan Pineda ground-out.

And Reggie, he was just getting started. In the bottom of the third, with the Fish trailing 4-1, he socked a line drive deep into centre field to drive home Jake Blackwood, and his feet fled so fast around the bags he stretched the hit into a triple. That's when Webb followed him up to the plate and blasted a home run clear over the right-field boards to tie the game. It was an explosive shot of adrenaline in what had been a slow and tense game.

Abercrombie capitalized again. In the bottom of the fifth, he decked out a single to move Casey Haerther to third, then stole another base. Bisenius walked Webb a minute later to load the bases, and both Haerther and Abercrombie would score in the chaos that happened next when a Mazzola fielder's choice contact ended in a bungled throw by the Saltdogs second baseman Luis Nunez. That gave the Fish a 6-4 lead, their first of the game, and sent the crowd roaring in the dampened stands.

In fact, the Saltdogs wouldn't score again for the rest of the game. Gac stayed penned, as Salamida struck him out twice and reliever Brendan Lafferty mowed him down in the ninth to wash Lincoln's hopes of a comeback win away. The crowd roared as he walked back to the dugout; one out later, and the Goldeyes had, however improbably at first, won the first game. One down, two more to go.

-- -- --

As wet as the weather was on Wednesday night, the radar is predicting an even soppier day today. That could have dire consequences for Game 2, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight. If the game has to be postponed, the teams will play on Friday evening instead, before hopping on the bus for Lincoln to finish out the series on the weekend.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2014 D1

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