Of all the Goldeyes who clipped the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks' wings Tuesday night, Josh Mazzola wielded some of the sharpest scissors.
As the Fish snatched a pair of wins in the doubleheader, the outfielder shone. He found hits, he was quick and he put some fire on the field. In the first tilt, he didn't miss a chance to hit until his fourth at-bat; by then, he'd already bashed out two doubles, a single and a pair of RBI. When the dust settled and the Goldeyes won 7-2, the media named Mazzola the player of the game.
He was solid in the second half of the doubleheader too, a more tenacious 4-3 win. Though Mazzola didn't get a hit in that one, Fargo pitcher Taylor Stanton bonked him with a pitch in the third inning, and the outfielder promptly made him pay. He danced neatly around a tag to steal second, then flew home on a Tyler Kuhn double to give the Fish their third run of the game. Later, he'd collect a walk.
Those two games were just the latest high note in a comeback story Mazzola has been writing in big, bold letters.
Two-thirds of the way through the season, Mazzola's .263 batting average doesn't leap out, not after he swung for .293 in 2013 and .308 the year before. But if the question is what has Mazzola done for the Goldeyes lately, then the answer is "a whole lot more." In the five games prior to opening this series against the RedHawks on Tuesday night, he was batting .474 with nine hits, two of them home runs, and seven RBI.
That's more like the spirited outfielder that Goldeyes fans have come to know -- not the one who started this campaign so slow.
Flashback to June 4, just a few weeks into the season, when Mazzola was skidding through a four-game hitless streak and mostly batting cold. His average had sunk to a dismal .169, his on-base percentage just as limp at .217. He was frustrated, but trying to control it. "Sometimes it gets the best of me, I'm human," Mazzola said June 9, after a series against Fargo where he started to turn his fortunes around.
After that low-water mark, Mazzola quietly started working his way back up the charts. By June 21, after a string of solid outings he was up to batting .221. Now, he's clawed up another rung: In each of the Goldeyes' final two games in Kansas City on the weekend, he notched three hits, including a home run.
That's good news for the Goldeyes, as they look to ride high into a playoff spot. They're 41-23 now, four games up on the St. Paul Saints for the North Division lead.
There were some other strong performances in the doubleheader. In the first game of the night, Goldeyes starting pitcher Chris Salamida threw a complete seven innings, struck out six batters, allowed just four hits and a pair of runs. Outfielder Reggie Abercrombie thrilled the crowd with his two-out, two-run homer, and league-leading Casey Haerther was two-for-two in the game, with a walk and two RBIs.
Shortstop Kuhn, one of the most consistent hitters in the league, delivered again. He went two-for-four in both games, with an RBI in the second tilt. Designated hitter Jordan Guida had a nice outing in the second game as well, going two-for-three with an RBI.
There is one more tilt in this series to play, a 7 p.m. showdown tonight. After that, the Goldeyes hit the road for a trio in Gary, before coming home to help host the 2014 American Association All-Star celebrations on Monday and Tuesday.
REDHAWKS second baseman C.J. Retherford didn't exactly make any fans at Shaw Park Tuesday night. It started in the first game of the doubleheader, when Retherford struck out in the third inning. He didn't like the call, and argued his case to umpire Nick Gonzalez, who eventually gave him the hook for tossing a bat.
That fired up RedHawks manager Doug Simunic, who flew into the umpire's face with some furious words. He got tossed as well, to the jeers of the Shaw Park crowd.
But Retherford really earned Fish fans' ire in the second game of the night. In the bottom of the first, Retherford was racing into home when he crashed into Goldeyes catcher Luis Alen. The collision slammed Alen to the dirt where he lay for several minutes. The Fish catcher did finish out the game. After that, whenever Retherford took a turn at the plate, fans booed him heartily all the way.
Simunic, however, was still all fired up. The Fargo manager got booted in the top of the seventh in the second game, after a razor-thin play where the umpire ruled that Goldeyes second baseman Jake Blackwood barely beat Fargo runner Zach Penprase to second base. This time, Simunic got tossed right away.