UNDER the merciful clouds of a bright Wednesday afternoon, the Winnipeg Goldeyes' walk-off win looked more like a walk-on.
See, it was the bottom of the ninth against the Wichita Wingnuts, score tied 3-3, the bases were loaded and there was only one out. Almost 8,000 fans -- a sellout, mostly school kids -- were cheering in the stands, and third baseman Amos Ramon stepped to the plate.
He knew he didn't need a hit, he said later, just something he could drive. Wingnuts pitcher Lincoln Holdzkom wound up, threw a ball, another ball, Ramon hit a foul... and then there it was, he whacked a sacrifice fly into right field, and Goldeyes second baseman Nick Liles trotted home.
The rest of the Goldeyes rushed from the dugout and onto the field, a sea of red shirts reaching out to slap hands, slap shoulders. All smiles tinged with a little bit of relief: The 4-3 victory closed the Wichita homestand 2-1, Winnipeg's first series win since Amarillo back in late May. The Fish have stumbled since then, looking for offence and sometimes getting burned on the mound. Now, they hope, they're back to their winning ways.
"That's big for us," Ramon said. "That team's good. I'm proud of the guys for coming out and playing today."
It wasn't easy, not after the Wingnuts creamed the Fish Tuesday night with an 11-0 shutout, a product of brilliant pitching from Wichita starter Jon Link, only three seasons removed from a stint in the major leagues. But Wednesday, the Goldeyes' own pitching was strong.
Although starter Mark Hardy watched Wingnut catcher Cole Armstrong send out a three-run homer in the first, he locked it down after that.
There is also something else, a new spark in the order: After an embarrassing series sweep by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks on the road last weekend, the Fish came home with a new centre-fielder -- former RedHawk Tyler Graham. He arrived in Winnipeg billed as a speedster, and through the Wichita series he prowled the basepaths. Indeed, the Goldeyes first run on Wednesday came almost entirely off his arms and legs: a dropped third-strike got him on base. With Ramon at the plate, Graham pounced on a Wichita error that turned his second-base steal into a dash to third. He made it home a minute later.
He added another steal and a run in the third, and finished the day with three steals, two hits in four at-bats.
"Tyler's giving us exactly the dynamic that we needed at this time," said Goldeyes batting coach Tommy Vaeth, who took the helm after Rick Forney was tossed in the seventh over an, ahem, disagreement about a call that allowed a Wichita runner to reach base. "He's been a spark for us... not only does he have talent, but he's pretty smart about the game. He has an idea of what he wants to do. Hopefully guys are starting to feed off the way he plays the game, and the way he goes about his at-bats."
So now, for the Fish, a rare day off today.
There aren't many, not with 100 games crammed into a few short months. So Vaeth has encouraged them to get away from the game entirely, relax the muscles, and let the mind roam away from the field.
Ramon, he planned to check out the planned public workouts for UFC 161 -- a big fan, he's calling Rashad Evans to win the main event against Dan Henderson on the weekend -- and Graham, he's just going to rest.
"We had two good wins, and we'll keep rolling after the day off," he said. "I just like to take care of myself."