Was there a little gamesmanship in play late on a rare forgettable night for the Winnipeg Goldeyes at Shaw Park?
Down 3-0 to the Gary SouthShore RailCats as the bottom of the ninth inning was coming up, Goldeyes manager Rick Forney made a quiet complaint to the umpiring crew about Gary reliever James Parr, who was warming up and about to enter the game to mop up a superb shutout performance from starter Dustin Crenshaw.
Parr was ejected before he faced a batter.
Gary won the game anyway against the listless Goldeyes, and easily, after a three-up-three-down ninth. Forney later was asked about possible gamesmanship, especially since there remains a possibility the teams may meet in next week's first round of the playoffs.
"No, I was just watching him warm up and he was pulling on the string in his glove and that string he's pulling on is not really tightening the grip any," Forney said later. "I guess he had some sticky stuff that might have been giving him some extra grip. You'd have to ask him."
Winnipeg wrapped up the North Division title and has already banked a franchise-record 61 victories. But since the eight-game winning streak powered them to clinching the division, the team has lost three of the last five.
"We're just trying to play good baseball," Forney said. "We do need these games because I don't know what the difference is between us and Laredo (the wildcard team) but obviously you want to win games. You don't want to lay down. We didn't do much today. There's not much to talk about. Looked to me like they wanted to play a bit more than we did."
Goldeyes starter Matt Jackson went into the eighth inning, but yielded all three runs on 10 hits. His teammates offered no offence in support, collecting just four hits off Crenshaw and failing to get even one runner to third base on the night.
The engine of Winnipeg's offence, Casey Haerther and Tyler Kuhn, the Nos. 2 and 3 hitters in the entire American Association, plus 70-RBI man Reggie Abercrombie right behind them in the order, went a collective zero for 12 on the night.
"He had a great game plan against us tonight," Kuhn said after Winnipeg dropped to 61-36. "He threw the ball really well, didn't throw anything in the middle of the plate and everything was sinking down in the zone; he threw his off-speed early in counts and late in counts. He just took control of the game and dominated us.
"We have to just do a better job of getting pitches to hit and not chasing a lot of bad pitches. I chased a lot tonight."
Kuhn is looking for better when the teams meet again at Shaw Park tonight at 6.
"I would say we need to turn the intensity up," Kuhn said. "It would be really hard to walk into Game 1 of the playoffs coming off a four-game losing streak.
"I know playoff games are going to be tight and they're going to be low-scoring probably and you have to be able to make the plays and drive the runs in when we can.
"We have to work on that now."
The Goldeyes will find the visitors even more determined and desperate tonight.
Despite posting their well-earned victory on Friday -- all they could do -- the RailCats fell a further half-game away from their goal of making the playoffs because the rival Lincoln Saltdogs won a pair of games from Sioux City on Friday.
Lincoln now holds a half-game lead on Gary in the yet-to-be-decided Central Division, as well as the tie-breaker should the teams get to the completion of the regular schedule on Monday with the same record.
Gary will have its chance to draw even in the standings today, as the Saltdogs don't play.