Even with a sore foot, Winnipeg Goldeyes shortstop Price Kendall kicked up the intensity a notch for his baseball team heading into the American Association playoffs.
Kendall and the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a wild-card team, will open the best-of-five semifinal series against the North Division champion Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks today and Thursday at Fargo's Newman Outdoor Field. The next three games are set for Shaw Park on Friday (7 p.m.) and, if necessary, Saturday (6 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.)
"The guys are upset some people think we don't have a chance to win. But I like that. It gives you that extra push and it's going to make it that much sweeter when we upset them," said Kendall, who has played through a myriad of injuries to his right leg and wears an orthopedic walking boot when not on the field. "Fargo is a good team but it just so happened they had their hot streak at the end of the year and we had ours at the beginning. I just want people to know, if you've stood by us, keep standing by us because we're going to do something special here."
The RedHawks, who won the season series against Winnipeg 12-6, are a formidable opponent who crawled out of the gate to start the season but have crushed everyone down the stretch. Sitting at 9-15 in mid-June, Fargo went 56-18 the rest of the way. Four RedHawks -- shortstop Zach Penprase, outfielder Nic Jackson, designated hitter Ryan Delgado and relief pitcher Tom Boleska -- were named to the AA all-star team. The Goldeyes had outfielder Chris Roberson recognized.
"We all got comfortable with each other really fast and found a way to come together," said Delgado, who shares Fargo's catching duties with Todd Jennings. "We've got some real good leaders on this team like Jackson, (Marcos) Rodriguez, Penprase, (Carlo) Cota and (Eric) Campbell. It's going to be a great battle with Winnipeg."
The Goldeyes, who led the North Division for 53 straight days to start the season, finished 10 games back of the RedHawks in the final standings and battled through some hitting woes to earn the league's wild card.
The RedHawks' resurgence started in late June after adding right-fielder Jon Gaston and veteran third-baseman Campbell in early July. On Sunday, left-fielder Aharon Eggleston, a former Goldeye, was activated from the disabled list, where he had been since June 24 with a leg injury.
RedHawks manager Doug Simunic said the series will "probably boil down to who makes a mistake or an error. A nail-biter."
"We feel good. Our season started slow and it evolved into something pretty good," said Simunic, adding his team was second-last in runs scored after the first 27 games but is now first.
"We've scored a lot of runs, our starting pitching is good, our closer (Tom Boleska) leads the league in saves (29). All the ingredients that we knew we had all came around."
Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said two things must happen for his team to beat Fargo.
"Our starting pitching needs to be on top of its game, especially the first three guys that we're running out there, and I'm talking seven innings and (allowing) three runs or less," said Forney, referring to starters Ace Walker, Chris Salamida and Matt Rusch, who will pitch games 1-3 in that order.
"Secondly, we need to find a way to produce some runs. We're not going to beat Fargo if we're scoring three or four runs. We need to match their offence."
Best-of-five semifinal series, Sept. 5-9
Winnipeg Goldeyes (wild card) vs. Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (North Division champion)
Wichita Wingnuts (Central Division champion) vs. Laredo Lemurs (South Division champion)
Players to watch
Winnipeg: Josh Mazzola, first baseman/right-fielder -- hottest-hitting Goldeye in the past seven days, batting .423 with a pair of doubles, a triple and a home run with a pair of walks and a stolen base.
Fargo-Moorhead: Centre-fielder/designated hitter Nic Jackson -- Jackson has Winnipeg's number, stunning fans at Shaw Park in the last two games with six doubles.