In the end, the win is all that matters -- the sweetness of the victory washes away the memory of stranded runners.
On Monday night, the Fish scraped out a 6-4 win over the Can-Am League's New Jersey Jackals, firing the opening salvo in their three-game series at Shaw Park. The last time these two teams met was out east, and the Jackals took the series. Now, with the North Division crown -- and its coveted playoff spot -- dead ahead, the Goldeyes don't want that to happen again.
The season is getting on, now, the night was clear but cool, and the mosquitoes swarmed a halo around the banks of lights above the field. It was a pretty night for a ball game, and the crowd filled it with a few lighthearted jabs.
"You look like my friend," a heckler called late in the game, at Jackals infielder Steve Nikorak. "My friend's name is Steve."
The game though, wasn't quite so picture-perfect. It was a scrappy win, earned in the trenches, sprinkled with gaffes and wonky pitches. Consider how, for instance, the Goldeyes stranded 14 runners on the bags, in the bottom of innings one through eight. They loaded the bases in the sixth, but neither Donnie Webb nor Josh Mazzola could drive one home.
That's not to single either of them out, though. After the Jackals bit Goldeyes starter Matt Jackson for three runs in the fourth inning to take a 3-2 lead, Mazzola quietly played hero. In the fifth he tied the game on a sacrifice fly; after that, with two outs on the board and the pressure on, catcher Luis Alen's RBI single gave the Fish their lead back.
The Jackals pulled pitcher Anthony Ferrara after that, and put Ryan Fennell in. But Fish designated hitter Ryan Pineda hit an RBI single that opened the lead back to two again. The Jackals didn't languish, though, or let up. To lead off the sixth, Jeremy Barnes shook off a little light-hearted heckling -- "nobody likes you, Jeremy," was my favourite -- and blasted a solo shot over the right-field wall.
That was all the Jackals could do, and it wasn't enough. In the eighth, Mazzola's RBI single gave the Fish a two-run pad going into the final frame. There, reliever Chris Kissock came in for the save, and struck out three batters to clinch the win.
Jackson gave up seven hits, three earned runs and two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Of note, outfielder Reggie Abercrombie did a great job getting on base, going 3-for-4 with a double, one RBI and two runs scored. He was one of eight Fish to draw a walk.
With that, the Fish snapped the Jackals' five-game win streak (including a recent three-game sweep of the St. Paul Saints), and raised their own record to 54-33 on the season. The teams will meet again tonight at Shaw Park.
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Although he didn't throw on Monday, Goldeyes starting pitcher Nick Hernandez got a little league-wide love nonetheless.
Hernandez was named the American Association's pitcher of the week, after he led the Fish to two key wins on Aug. 12 and Aug. 17. First, the right-handed hurler was spectacular through the first eight innings of a 4-3 victory over the St. Paul Saints. He returned to the mound on Sunday to spin seven scoreless innings on the Sioux Falls Canaries.
Between those two games, opposing batters could only muster a .132 average, while 11 struck out. On the season, Hernandez leads the Fish pitchers with 10 wins, 84 strikeouts and a 3.34 ERA. This was the second time this season he was named the league's pitcher of the week, joining Chris Salamida as Fish to receive multiple honours.
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After Josh Mazzola smashed three home runs outta the Sioux Falls park on Sunday evening, guess his teammates figured the red-hot hitter needed a little cooling.
A couple of hours before the first pitch flew on Monday, the Fish journeyman stood in the dugout, and braced himself for the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Mazzola let out a mighty shriek after outfielder Reggie Abercrombie dumped a vat full of ice water on his head, while relief pitcher Gabe Aguilar filmed the scene.
The ALS ice-bucket stunt has gone viral on social media in recent weeks, as everyone from kids to star athletes posted video of themselves taking the chilly challenge.