THE Winnipeg Goldeyes reached the end of the road Monday night with a 4-0 win over the Saints in St. Paul.
Matt Rusch (9-4, 2.46) got the win for the Goldeyes (53-40), their third straight victory in the four-game series. Winnipeg now has a three-game lead over St. Paul (50-43) for the American Association's wild-card playoff berth and their magic number to clinch the wild-card is five, heading home for the final seven games of the regular season.
Today at Shaw Park the Goldeyes will continue the battle for their playoff lives, hosting the Sioux City Explorers (41-52) for four games. The regular season will end with a three-game set against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Sept. 1-3.
Arch-rival Fargo has clinched first in the North Division, leaving the Goldeyes one last possibility at post-season play.
Nothing like having a couple nail-biter series, dipped in a little desperation, to end the season for a team that led its division for the first 53 days of the season. But that is where a rash of injuries, an underachieving bullpen and inconsistent hitting has brought the Fish.
"We've been make-or-break for a week or more already. With some of the moves Rick (manager Forney) has made, it's reinforced the message that it's time to step it up or we're all going home early," Goldeyes veteran Ace Walker (9-4), who started in Saturday's 5-2 win over the Saints, said in a telephone interview from St. Paul on Monday. The Goldeyes won 8-2 Sunday and lost 1-0 in 12 innings last Friday.
A big change fans will notice is the absence of Jon Weber, who was released Aug. 21. Weber, hampered throughout the season by injuries, was struggling at the plate. Forney replaced him with Cuban-American Barbaro Canizares, who is hitting .500 and is on a seven-game hitting streak.
"Getting Barbaro, the biggest thing is that every time we've needed a hit or needed an RBI, he's the guy who has really stepped up and made some things happen," said Walker. "Losing Weber was a big, he's a good guy. Everyone was shocked. Barbaro working like that after losing the personality (of Weber), it's helping to deal with the shock."
Another change is the absence of pitching coach Bill Pulsipher who returned to his home for "personal reasons," according to a team statement.
"Our (starting) pitching staff is older so we're making sure the younger guys are getting their stuff done. We (pitching staff) have kept that sense of urgency that Pulsipher left with us," Walker said. "He left a real good impression with us. It's not fun to not have him around, but he let us know he's just a phone call away if we have a question and I know some guys have been taking advantage of that."
Walker could take the mound on Wednesday. Forney may go with a spot starter today but the starters for the next few games have not been announced.
"It's going to be interesting to see what Rick does with the pitching staff over the next few days," Walker said. "If we clinch a playoff spot we won't want to give Fargo (expected to be the first-round opponent for the wild-card winner) a good look at our starters. Some relievers could get some starts."