Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long's slam breaks trend

Fish usually lose late in close games

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The numbers scream off the page -- 6-12 in one-run ball games, 0-25 when they trail heading into the ninth inning.

If you'd like to know why it is that a very talented ball club like the Winnipeg Goldeyes is locked in a battle just to make the playoffs when the Northern League season wraps up next month, you need look no further than those two statistics.

There is every kind of statistic imaginable available to followers of baseball teams -- hitting, pitching, defence, situational, game-by-game, week-by-week, month-by-month.

Heck, you want to know how outfielder Kevin West hits on Tuesdays against left-handers? It would take a few minutes, but you could find that out too.

But some baseball stats transcend all that, speak beyond the game's specifics to the very heart of a team. And those numbers, which suggest these Goldeyes are awful when the game is on the line, would not seem to bode well for the prospects of this club winning Winnipeg its first pro sports championship since 1994.

That's why what Wes Long did in Rockford, Ill., on Thursday night -- belting a 1-0 fastball over the fence for a ninth-inning grand-slam home run -- deserves particular notice.

For one thing, it represented late-inning run production -- big run production -- for a club that we have seen has been sorely lacking in that department.

For another, Long's homer came with the Fish perilously clinging to a 4-3 lead that was once 4-0 and which the home-team Rockford RiverHawks had been whittling away all game.

Long, who also hit a grand slam for Winnipeg last season, said the first pitch he saw in the ninth inning was a slider in the dirt.

So..."I was just looking for a fastball and the one he threw was right down the middle of the plate," said Long, who was 0-4 at the plate until he ripped that pitch from right-hander Emary Frederick over the fence.

It was precisely the kind of game the Goldeyes have been losing this season and precisely why they headed into a doubleheader Friday night against the Lake County Fielders in Zion, Ill., having underachieved their way to a tie with Gary for the fourth and final playoff spot, 8.5 games behind the league-leading Kansas City T-Bones.

But this time it went the other way as the Fish went on to win the game 8-3 and the series with Rockford 2-1 to begin their 10-games-in-nine-nights road marathon on a winning note.

Although Long's ninth-inning heroics will do nothing to change the statistics -- the Fish were leading heading into the ninth and the game ended up being a five-run victory -- it still represented hope and change for a club that is going to have to turn a corner, and soon, if they are going to challenge for an NL title in the post-season.

"We went through a tough stretch there, no question," Fish manager Rick Forney said in a phone interview Friday.

"We haven't been hitting much in those late innings," Forney said. "It's a good question why. I wish I knew those answers."

The Goldeyes play four games against the Fielders in Zion this weekend before moving on to Gary for a three-game set Monday through Wednesday against the RailCats.

The Goldeyes then return home for a 10-game homestand, beginning Aug. 6 against Kansas City.



RICK FORNEY remains optimistic.

While acknowledging the obvious, the Winnipeg Goldeyes manager believes the 2010 club he built to finally win a Northern League title still has a chance to do so.

"Do I have some holes on my team right now? No question," Forney said, asking and answering his own questions in a phone interview Friday. "Do I think some guys that are creating those holes can play better? I do.

"But there's lots of baseball left to play. We can get back into this. Nothing is settled yet."

Indeed, while the Fish were below .500 (31-32) and tied with Gary for the fourth and final playoff spot heading into Friday night, their schedule would seem to allow them to control their destiny.

The Fish still play Gary seven times, second-place Fargo 10 times and first-place Kansas City six times. Win against those clubs and the Goldeyes will improve their position and advance to the playoffs with some momentum and confidence.

Wes Long said the performance of reliever Bobby Korecky is critical for the rest of this season.

"You know you have a big-league guy out there," Long said of Korecky, who was with the Anaheim Angels last season. "He just gives us a lot of confidence."

-- Wiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2010 D6

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