Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frustrated Fish losing it in ninth

Team struggling to fix lead-blowing habits

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AFTER giving up yet another lead late in the game Tuesday night, the Winnipeg Goldeyes took to the field Wednesday afternoon searching for answers.

Why can't they hold a lead? Why do their bats, statistically some of the best in the league, go cold late in the game?

Maybe most importantly, how is it that a team that has outscored its opponents by 27 runs in the first eight innings of games this season is getting embarrassed in the crucial final inning?

The numbers are a bit staggering. Through 55 games this season, the Fish have scored only 13 runs in the ninth, their worst offensive output in an inning by a country mile.

"I just don't have an answer for it," said manager Rick Forney, clearly frustrated with his club's inability to finish games.

Tuesday's loss, in which the Fish gave up four runs in the top of the ninth, thanks to a series of bloop hits and defensive lapses, was the third time the Fish have gone on to lose when entering the ninth with a lead. On the other side of the coin, they've never staged a ninth-inning comeback of their own all season.

The strange thing is, a quick glance at the numbers suggests the team should have no trouble generating runs. They're second in the league in hitting percentage and third-best in getting on base.

But in the opinion of Fish all-star Kevin West, the numbers are misleading.

"I personally don't think we've really been swinging the bat that great," he said. "Like yesterday, we got a lot of hits but we weren't getting runs."

What they are doing, however, is giving them up -- in bunches. The team has allowed a whopping 43 runs in the ninth inning of ball games this year -- a number pretty damning for an already embattled Fish bullpen.

Ian Thomas has been strong in relief with a 2.27 ERA, and early results from rookie Chad Benefield have been promising. But beyond that, it's been a bit of a mess in the bullpen, in no small part due to a lack of stability. Projected closer Bobby Korecky is fighting his way back from Tommy John surgery last year and missed time due to a death in the family. Starter Mark Holliman getting picked up by the Boston Red Sox also forced Forney to do some shuffling.

"We haven't had a lot of defined roles in our bullpen," said West. "It's kind of been one of those bullpens-by-committee, and those never work.

"I think when (Korecky) comes back healthy, that'll be a big boost."

andrew.evans@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2010 C2

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