Of all the games the Goldeyes played and lost against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, when faced with a tilt they absolutely had to win, they did.
But despite Saturday night's heroics, despite the two home runs and the fan euphoria around a lopsided score, the victory suddenly didn't matter.
Oh, the Goldeyes did what they had to do at Shaw Park, thumping the visiting RedHawks 9-0. It was their first win against the Fargo team in 10 games this year, with two more left in the series and their season. But the Fish were trailing the Gary SouthShore RailCats by 21/2 games in the American Association wild-card race, and this is what happens when you don't control your fate: the RailCats won their tilt against the El Paso Diablos.
With that, the Goldeyes' slim playoff hopes vanished into an outfield somewhere in Gary, Indiana, leaving no chance to repeat last year's championship feat. Though not a shock, it was still a heartbreaker: infielder Amos Ramon found out when he went up for his last at-bat to kick off the bottom of the eighth inning. His wife told him.
"It sucked," Ramon said, but he shook off the disappointment and bashed out a single.
It's rough because, by winning percentage, the Goldeyes will finish as the fourth-best team in the league; only Fargo, Gary and the Wichita Wingnuts have a higher winning percentage. But playoff schemes aren't always fair. "I really thought we were going to get in," Ramon said. "Even when (Gary) had to lose all three, I thought something would happen. But it's over, and now we've just got to play the last two games, and have fun with it."
The season epitaph will be written soon, but first, let the disappointment not cloud this fact: on Saturday night, the Goldeyes played hard.
Starting pitcher Jason Jarvis did his job, denying the visitors even a base hit until there were already two outs in the sixth inning; he even rolled in the dirt to snatch a pop-up near the RedHawks dugout in that same frame. When he was relieved deep in the eighth, he'd only allowed five hits, struck out four batters and didn't walk a single one.
When he left, rock-solid reliever Brendan Lafferty made his 51st appearance of the year, tying Brian Beuning's 2008 campaign for the Fish record.
So on down the roster it goes: seven of nine Fish hitters drove in at least one run. Outfielder Ryan Scoma drove out a solo home run to start the second inning to put the Goldeyes on the board. Right-fielder Ray Sadler's two-run homer in the seventh was a thrill, and big-hitting Casey Haerther went three-for-four, coaxed a walk and finished with an RBI and two runs of his own.
Oh, there's more. With two outs glaring on the board, second baseman Kevin Moesquit banged out a two-run double; later, he took a sizzling line drive in the chest and squeezed it hard to keep Fargo first baseman Keith Brachold off the bags. Catcher Luis Alen was swinging hard all game, and made it count with a thundering sixth-inning RBI double that put the Fish up 5-0.
That hit, combined with Moesquit's free stroll to first base a minute later, chased Fargo starter Danny Gutierrez. Not that it changed much, as the Fish would score three more runs off of his relievers and besides, they didn't let the RedHawks score.
If things had gone better through the middle of this season, that team performance would have been enough. This time, the fight to save the season fell short. Still, as Lafferty dispatched final Fargo hitter Jeremiah Piepkorn in the ninth, the crowd clapped wildly, as if to will one last strike, one final nail in what was, if not a meaningful win, a crisp and very entertaining night. Best part: they got it.
Goldeyes faithful have two more chances to cheer the home squad. The Fish continue their series against the RedHawks for two more games, starting with a matinee this afternoon at 1:30 before they wrap up the season on Monday at 7 p.m.