A rocky first inning faded from view Thursday night as the Winnipeg Goldeyes bullpen held strong against St. Paul Saints and Fish bats came alive.
The Saints order walked all over the home team in the first frame. Goldeyes pitcher Mark Hardy, who boasted the lowest ERA of all Fish starters at 2.80 coming into Thursday, had a shaky start, getting burned for two hits and walking three Saints in a row en route to three visitor scores.
But this time, the Fish fought back. In the bottom of the first, they replied with two runs off swings by first-baseman Casey Haerther and third-baseman Josh Mazzola. Hardy also settled in, and the Saints struggled to get offence again until the sixth inning, when they managed two more runs. By then, the Fish had taken a solid lead, and solid relief pitching by Kaohi Downing, Brendan Lafferty and closer Patrick Keating kept them ahead.
The win, coming after a squeaker walk-off victory Wednesday, gives the Fish a 2-1 series lead going into the last of the Saints games today. The Goldeyes are now 23-21 on the year, and in second place in the American Association's North Division, just above the Saints.
Catcher Luis Alen had a fine night, batting in designated hitter Ryan Scoma in the fourth to give his team the first lead of the game. He then added insurance with a fifth-inning single that scored two and finished the night with one hit and three RBI in four at-bats.
At the plate, Casey Haerther got some key hits, including a first-inning double that scored right-fielder Ray Sadler. His fifth-inning single got him on base to score what would be the winning sixth run. Add a beautiful defensive play or two at first base -- like a silky-smooth snatch on a long throw by Josh Mazzola to put Saints runner Ole Sheldon out and flip the third inning -- and the rugged infielder polished his value.
The Goldeyes were up 5-3 in the fifth, with Haerther, Fehlandt Lentini and Scoma on base and just one out, when Alen came to the plate. After one ball by Saints reliever Mike Koons, the catcher swung and cracked one deep into left field, scoring two to put the Fish up 7-3 and giving them the score they'd need to win.
The Goldeyes defence put away four double plays Thursday, suggesting their recently rearranged infield -- former shortstop Nate Samson was picked up by the Chicago Cubs organization earlier this week -- is working. "We're clicking, and we have to click on defence," Haerther said. "These pitchers are not big strikeout pitchers. They put the ball in play a lot. Four double plays in one game, that feels good."
ON THE HOOK
The Goldeyes wrap up their home series against St. Paul tonight at 7. Then they host the Gary-SouthShore RailCats for four games, starting Saturday at 6 p.m.