WINNIPEG Goldeyes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea and his team are used to long bus rides home, but they tend to feel even longer after a loss. The Goldeyes took a 14-hour bus ride home Sunday after a game they believed was locked up.
The Goldeyes were up 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth against the Gary SouthShore RailCats with two out. Relief pitcher Chris Kissock was prepared to add a victory to the win column -- and then the RailCats got a three-run homer courtesy of Zac Mitchell.
"It's definitely a hard loss. You've got two outs and a two-run lead and you just can't finish the game. It's tough, especially right before a 14-hour bus ride and you've got to think about that the whole way home," Vermilyea said.
The Goldeyes lost two of three games during their series with the RailCats, splitting a doubleheader the day before with a 5-2 win and a 5-2 loss.
Once the leader of the American Association's North Division, the Fish now sit in third place, three games back of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
The Goldeyes have an opportunity to gain some ground when they start a four-game home series against the St. Paul Saints tonight. The Goldeyes have a 21-20 record while the Saints are just ahead at 22-20.
"Every game is important right now. We really can't afford to give away these close games, especially late in the game. We've got to make sure we get every win whenever we get that chance," Vermilyea said.
Vermilyea believes his pitching crew's quality starts have helped keep the Goldeyes in many close games, but the bullpen needs to finish the job. The Goldeyes pitchers produced five quality starts during their six-game road trip against the Sioux City Explorers and RailCats.
"They're big. It allows the bullpen to stay fresh so they only have to go out there and throw one inning or do four or five outs at a time," Vermilyea said. "With the starters going deep in the game and the bullpen staying fresh and sharp it keeps us in games and gives us a chance to win."
The Goldeyes will attempt to break their two-game losing streak with veteran Matt Rusch on the mound.
"We have our ace going (tonight). Hopefully he can get us back to our winning ways," Vermilyea said. "It's so important to win that first game of the series. We're looking for Matt to go up there, give us six or seven solid innings and hand the ball over to the bullpen."
Rusch's job might have been made a little easier. The Saints announced power hitter Craig Brazell's contract has been sold and he is now playing for a Japanese team.
But losing a player in the middle of a season is something any independent baseball organization must deal with and Vermilyea knows the Saints still have a roster they must look out for.
"They've got a solid lineup and a lot of pop," Vermilyea said.
First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7 p.m.