At first glance the score looks grisly, but numbers are never the entire story: the Winnipeg Goldeyes were in Saturday's 11-6 loss almost until the end.
Of course, there are no moral victories in pro sports, and so all the record books will know is that the Fish dropped the first game of their homestand against the Gary-SouthShore RailCats. Coming down off the high of a 14-7 crushing of the visiting St. Paul Saints on Friday, the home squad bent, and finally broke, giving up five fatal runs in the eighth inning.
It wasn't for lack of trying. The Fish cracked 13 hits of their own, while the visitors knocked out 12. But Goldeyes starter Ryan Sasaki walked four batters in just over three innings, and two of those ended up lighting the scoreboard.
Finally, in that deadly eighth, reliever Brendan Lafferty -- whose usual performance this season had pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea wondering if he might get a look from a big league organization -- struggled hard, getting torched for two hits, two walks and five runs in seven at-bats.
"We had to battle back out of some early holes, we didn't pitch real good," Fish manager Rick Forney said after the game. "It got to a one-run game with Lafferty going in there, but he didn't take care of the ball. You gotta throw more strikes, be more efficient and not allow free passes, and he wasn't able to do that today. The game got away from him."
Despite how the night ended, it began with the Fish making the initial strike, as right-fielder Ray Sadler sent his 11th home run of the American Association season -- a solo shot -- flying over the wall at Shaw Park in the bottom of the first. The RailCats would reply with two runs of their own in the second, though the Goldeyes responded to tie the score at the bottom of the frame.
From there, they duelled, trading dud innings and chances to take a grip on the game. The RailCats pulled ahead in the third, as second baseman Amos Ramon dove to grab a ball skittering off of RailCats infielder Christian Vitters' bat, but watched the ball bounce past and into right field, as Cats catcher Ryan Babineau sped across home plate.
That score would go unanswered. In the sixth inning, the teams would trade three runs. The third one was a major highlight, as catcher Luis Alen blasted his first home run of the year clear into the trees beside the Red River. The other two strikes came thanks in part to centre-fielder Fehlandt Lentini, who knocked a double that scored Casey Haerther, and then scored himself on a Ryan Scoma out.
Sadler would score one last time, refusing to give up in the bottom of the ninth when he fired a single that scored outfielder Mike Coles.
The infield looked a little different on Saturday than Fish fans may be used to. With shortstop Nick Liles out with muscle spasms, Forney shuffled rookie catcher Jordan Guida into the order in Liles' place, while Alen moved to first base, third baseman Josh Mazzola moved to shortstop and first baseman Haerther moved to third.
The Goldeyes will get a chance to tie the series today at 1:30 p.m., and they wrap it up with Shaw Park tilts on Monday and Tuesday evenings.