If disappointment was writ on Patrick Keating's face, fans couldn't see it as the Goldeyes closer turned away, his arm shaking in mute frustration.
In that moment, the Fish's game against the visiting Kansas City T-Bones suddenly slipped away: it was the top of the ninth, Fish up 6-4, just one runner on base and two outs on the board. The home squad looked poised to even the series at one apiece after dropping the opener on Friday 8-3. The crowd rippled in their seats, as the boys brought it home.
Then T-Bones right-fielder Luis Rivera stepped to the plate and Keating -- a rock at the end for the Fish this season -- let the pitch fly.
Rivera swung, and hit. Ball cracked against bat, flew straight over the fence and bounced into the bushes beyond. The two-run homer, Rivera's second in a row, tied the game at 6-6 and forced the Fish into an extra inning. There, the T-Bones struck quickly, cashing in for two runs. The Goldeyes simply couldn't match, and with that, suffered their second loss in a row.
Ooph. It's a tough blow, coming as the Fish are clinging to their hopes for a wild-card playoff spot, and coming in a game where so much had gone right. The Fish had five double-plays, a new season high. Other than a rocky seventh inning before he was relieved, pitcher Jason Jarvis started well in his first turn with the Fish, after they traded with the Sioux City Explorers to bring him in last week.
On the plus side, the wild-card-leading Gary-SouthShore RailCats lost again, bumping them down to 47-37 on the year, while the Goldeyes now sit at 45-40. So these Fish aren't dead yet. "Tonight, it's kind of painful," shortstop Josh Mazzola said after the game. "You can't really hang our head too much on it. We're in a race, and we gotta go out and play our ball... go out, and take care of what we got to take care of."
The Fish almost did, in this one. The Goldeyes were holding a 1-0 lead when their bats came up big in a fearless fourth inning, torching T-Bones starter Ethan Cole for four hits and four runs, even with two outs looming over their heads.
Designated hitter Ryan Scoma -- currently battling for the league's batting title -- singled to open that frame, but when Ray Sadler struck out and Mazzola's right-field fly was hauled down it looked like Scoma might find himself stranded. But then first baseman Casey Haerther -- who was 4-for-4 on the night -- banged out a single, and Luis Alen stepped to the plate and walloped out a huge double to let Scoma and Haerther dash home.
The Fish weren't done there: second baseman Kevin Moesquit hammered out a triple to score Alen, and then centre-fielder Tyler Graham's single drove Moesquit home. With that, the Fish clasped a 5-1 lead, one they would build on with a Mazzola solo homer in the sixth.
Then, somehow, it all went wrong: the T-Bones surged to close the gap in the seventh, with a Brandon Jones RBI single and Rivera's first two-run homer of the night. Then came that ninth: Kansas City shortstop Felix Molina managed a single, his bat pushing the ball right on the left-field foul line, where an umpire called it fair. Then Rivera blew it out of the park, and the Goldeyes just couldn't respond.
In the 10th it all came undone: with Keating still on the mound, T-Bones left-fielder Justin Bass singled, designated hitter Joey Gathright took a walk, and first baseman Jairo Perez doubled to drive those two home. The Fish would close it out soon after, but the damage had been done.
Oh well. This one's in the books, there's 15 games yet to play, including the Kansas City series closer this afternoon. Maybe, when all is said and done, they'll look back on this match with dismay -- or maybe it'll be forgotten in the thrill of the chase. "If we get into the playoffs, everything's fair game," Mazzola said. "You just go out and play hard, that's all you can do."