Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't touch those Goldeyes, they're scorchin'-hot

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To smash a franchise record, to set your name in the history books for a team's longest win streak ever -- well, naturally that feat tastes mighty sweet.

That the Goldeyes broke that record with a rocking 14-4 win on Sunday in Fargo, the site of so many bitter defeats, made the sweetness linger.

SERIES PREVIEW

 

WINNIPEG GOLDEYES vs. SIOUX CITY EXPLORERS

July 8, 9, 10 -- All games at 7 p.m.

 

The Explorers roll back into Winnipeg for the second time this year. Last time they were here, they spoiled the Goldeyes' home-opening series 2-1 back in May. This time around, things could be different. The Xs are 20-30 on the season, and now facing a Goldeyes group on an 11-game win streak and boasting some of the hottest pitching and hitting in the league.

The first Explorers hurler tasked with shutting down the Goldeyes' booming bats will likely be Patrick Johnson, who holds a 3.22 ERA and will be hunting for his second win in Winnipeg this season. Meanwhile, the Explorers are now without their greatest offensive weapon in former Goldeye Nate Samson, who was bought by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization on June 29. That's the second time in as many seasons he's gotten the affiliated call.

That loss stings, especially on a team that holds a collective batting average and on-base percentage that ranks second-worst in the league.

On the plus side -- looks as if former Goldeye fan fave Amos Ramon is coming home, for a few games at least. After Ramon was let go in spring camp due to roster-rule crunch, he played around the Atlantic League before the Explorers picked him up last month. Perhaps a warm welcome for the 2012 playoff MVP?

"It was really just like winning another game, to be honest with you," Goldeyes hitter Josh Mazzola said, just one day after the Goldeyes notched their record-breaking 11th win in a row. "We're playing pretty well. But doing that, setting a record like that the way we did it, and seven out of those wins against Fargo, is kind of really cool."

Last season, the Fish lost all six games at Newman Outdoor Field. This year, they dropped the first two they played against the RedHawks there, and players who'd been around the block a while nodded that it was tough to win in Fargo. Then last weekend, they rolled into the North Dakota park on Friday, and won; they returned to the RedHawks turf on Saturday and won; then they finished the sweep with that wild Sunday win.

Behind the Goldeyes dugout, a bunch of travelling Fish fans stood up to roar their support. So that just added to the fun. "It felt like there were more Winnipeg fans than there were Fargo fans, to be honest with you," starting hurler Ethan Hollingsworth said.

It's funny. Hollingsworth turned in a quality start in that record-smashing outing, though he didn't know history was on his arm until he came off the mound. That's when his colleague Matt Jackson told him if the Fish hung on for the win -- at the time, they were leading 4-3 -- they would set the franchise win-streak record.

"Maybe it was a little better not to know," said Hollingsworth, who now holds a 2.84 ERA through four games.

In the end, the Goldeyes offence that has been so hot lately -- that powered them through three consecutive sweeps of Fargo-Moorhead, Kansas City and Fargo again -- busted out a huge 10-run inning to leave the RedHawks in the dust. Record set, momentum kept. With almost half the season gone, the Goldeyes are now sitting pretty at 34-14, well atop the north division where they are 9.5 games up on rival St. Paul Saints.

Indeed, all the big stats are pointing the Goldeyes' way. Wanna talk about pitching? Behind a league-leading 3.58 team ERA, they've also given up fewer walks and hits per inning than any other squad. On the attack, Fish hitters have combined for a .298 average, just a hair below the Wichita Wingnuts who, as the season takes shape, are starting to loom in the playoff distance.

Then there is Casey Haerther, the Goldeyes' second-year first baseman who quietly stoked his fire until it exploded over the last few weeks. More on him tomorrow, but suffice to say: In eight games last week, he swung for a .629 average, slammed out five doubles and three home runs, and drove in 11 scores. On Monday he was named the American Association's player of the week, the second time in just three weeks.

"One of the most special things about our team right now is ability to score runs," Mazzola said, and it should be noted the Goldeyes have put up 94 of those in their last 11 wins. "You go as a pitcher from another team and look at our lineup, I don't think there's an easy out one through nine. If somebody doesn't drive in a run, the next guy is going to."

Well, as the old trope goes, now it's just a matter of keeping it up. The Goldeyes are getting ready today to open a 10-game homestand, starting with the first of three against the Sioux City Explorers. If all goes well, that win-streak record could really get scorching. But both Hollingsworth and Mazzola swear the clubhouse isn't spitballin' about those what-ifs.

"We just go out and take care of business, and if we do that it's going to take care of itself," Mazzola said. "We're not really worried about going out and having a winning streak. That's been the funnest part. Baseball's a kid's game, and here we've really had an opportunity to play it to the best of our ability."

 

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2014 C2

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