In the Goldeyes history books, it will go down as a team pitching performance for the ages -- and it came just when the squad needed a trio of heroes.
Three games, three wins, three shutouts -- and three starting pitchers going the whole nine innings, too.
Those 27 consecutive shutout innings are unrivalled in Fish history, and they came at a critical time. The Fish rolled into Minnesota on Monday battling to climb atop the American Association's wild-card race, but they stumbled at first, and lost. Worse, it was an ugly loss, as they fell 14-1 to the St. Paul Saints to start their last road swing of the year.
With so little room for error, their hopes might have fallen away there. Instead, with the pressure on, the Goldeyes starting arms stood tall: on Tuesday, Chris Salamida pitched them to a 7-0 win.
On Wednesday, Matt Rusch followed up that feat with a 7-0 win. And on Thursday, Jason Jarvis -- acquired in a trade from the Sioux City Explorers only a week earlier -- gave up only five hits in nine innings of a 3-0 win.
Those three wins, plus a 7-2 win in Sioux Falls Friday night, lift the Fish to 50-41 on the year, and in a battle with the Gary-SouthShore RailCats for the wild-card spot and with just nine tilts left to play. The Fish trail Gary by 11/2 games. Needless to say, if the pitchers hadn't turned out like they did -- especially in Thursday's game, where the hits didn't come -- the Fish's post-season dreams would likely be over.
"Some guys have it, and they thrive in that situation," pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea said on Friday, before the Fish kicked off their final road series against the Sioux Falls Canaries. "Some guys like to pitch in those situations."
Indeed, so strong did those three turn out, that Vermilyea had no problem keeping his relievers in the pen. "Anytime the guys get a chance to show a complete-game shut-out, you want to give them an opportunity," Vermilyea said. "They were aggressive, attacking hitters, and not getting into deep counts. That's what I try to instill in these guys."
Message received, clearly, but the St. Paul series also highlights the value of manager Rick Forney's late-season pitching acquisitions, especially as the Fish tighten up to a four-man rotation. Starter Peter Gehle is sitting out, as the Fish moved to strengthen their arms. With southpaws Mark Hardy and Edgar Osuna still on the injury shelf, that leaves Rusch, Salamida, Jarvis and Matt Jackson to carry the load.
Of those four, all but Rusch joined the Fish within the last month. Jarvis used to be a clean-up guy for the struggling Canaries, and Forney scooped up Jackson after the righty was released from the San Diego Padres organization. Then there's Salamida, who helped hurl the Fish to the 2012 American Association championship before retiring at the beginning of this season. He came back to help his old team chase the title again.
"Salamida is a guy that has that desire to win, and he's been in those situations before," Vermilyea said. "It's been a little contagious since he's been here. He's been throwing the ball really well, and that's carried over to our other starters... and our bullpen, for that matter."
Speaking of the bullpen, the Goldeyes did beef it up on Friday, as the Fish claimed rookie reliever Taylor Sewitt from the RailCats.