The winning score came not off a heroic hit, but two bungled balls, and as the Fish flooded the field in victory you could almost hear them all exhale.
At first, it all seemed a little too easy. For five straight innings the Fish swarmed the Aigles, keeping them caged up at the plate and scrambling across the field. Starter Matt Rusch allowed only a single hit in those first five frames, while striking out five. He was rolling.
Meanwhile, the Fish hitters came out to play, banging out nine hits in those first five, cashing in for three runs and drawing a few walks along the way. All nine would finish with at least one base hit, but it wouldn't end so cleanly; the Aigles had fight in them yet.
In the sixth, the visitors pounced on one error and what Rusch would later acknowledge were a few of his mistakes, banging out three hits and capitalizing on an Amos Ramon error to put two past home plate. With Rusch's pitch count creeping up, manager Rick Forney put reliever Kaohi Downing in the game, but the first hitter he saw -- outfielder Jon Smith -- blew out a three-run homer to give the Aigles a 5-3 lead.
The Fish responded quickly, tying things up in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI double by outfielder Ryan Scoma and a RBI single by heavy-hitter Casey Haerther after that. The bullpen and defence combined to keep the Aigles stuck at five, and in the ninth, it happened: a pair of Aigles errors paved the way for pinch-runner Jordan Guida to come home, stopping the clock at three hours and 19 minutes to the cheers of a very relieved crowd. The win pushed the Fish above .500 on the season, and gave them a 2-1 series lead going into Monday's final game.
+ He might want his half of the sixth inning back, but Rusch's first five were beautiful, as he pounded the Aigles with searing fastballs.
+ First baseman Casey Haerther delivered, walloping three singles for two RBI -- including the game-tying Ryan Scoma dash -- in four at-bats.
The architecture of the walk-off win started when catcher Luis Alen -- who has been phenomenal this series, and banged out three hits in four at-bats and coaxed a wwalk in this game -- singled to get on base, then bit on an Aigles error to make it to second. Guida came in to run for him, and with two outs on the board, Ramon banged out a groundball that Aigles shortstop David Cooper couldn't handle. The error allowed Guida to race home.
The crowd offered robust applause for veteran outfielder Fehlandt Lentini after he swiped third base in the second inning, officially setting the record for all-time base steals in independent ball with 332. He had tied the previous record in Friday's game. Meanwhile, Matt Rusch tipped his hat to the Aigles hitters that gave the Goldeyes a scare.
"Things kind of sped up there, but you have to give them credit," Rusch said. "They hit some mistakes I threw out there, which good teams are going to do. I was cruising there for a little bit, and then after that just kind of settled in and hit that rough patch, but good win for the guys in the end."
ON THE HOOK
The Fish wrap up the four-game Aigles series in a 7 p.m. tilt at Shaw Park on Monday, then get ready to welcome the visiting Lincoln Saltdogs for four.