Even though the previous three tries didn't go their way, it was like a boxing staredown for the Winnipeg Goldeyes. It was their last chance to get some sort of mental edge over a team they will not be seeing again unless they clash in the playoffs.
On Sunday, the Fish came away with a 5-1 win over the Wichita Wingnuts, the best team in the American Association. They avoided being swept, having lost the first three games of the series. They also came away with some positivity -- a boost in morale -- heading into a huge three-game series beginning Tuesday against a rising second-place team in the North Division, the St. Paul Saints.
Even though the series was lost, they knew they needed a win.
"Are you kidding me? That might've been the biggest win of the season right there for our club," manager Rick Forney said after the game. "I mean, just for our own psyche we got to know that we can play with these guys. We played with them the last two nights, just one pitch there or an extra base hit we didn't get and they got. It made the difference in the outcome of the score. It could've easily been Winnipeg winning three of these four games."
The lineup for the Wingnuts included all-stars Brent Clevlen and Jake Kahaulelio, who were able to get to the Fish pitchers all weekend. But starting pitcher Chris Salamida was able to hold both of them off during Sunday's game. Clevlen, who Forney calls the best player in the league, went 0-for-3.
When the Saints roll into Winnipeg they will only be three games behind the North Division-leading Fish. In their last meeting, the Saints won three games of a four-game set.
"Every game we got to win -- every day -- they're all must wins. I mean yeah, it's tough to win them all, but that's what I want to do, I want to win them all," Salamida said.
"I don't want to give a team a shot to take first place, I don't want the wild card, I want to hold down first place."
For the veteran Salamida, it was his second complete game in his last three starts. His strikeout numbers continue to rise, with 62 in his last 10 starts. He fanned eight Sunday. He tossed 125 pitches in that game and Forney can't remember the last time he pushed a starting pitcher that far.
"I don't believe I've ever taken Sal (Salamida) that far," Forney said. "Sal's a big-game pitcher. Man, it's really difficult to find front-line starters, like a true No. 1 starter that's a stopper in your rotation.
"When you're hitting some skids and you got a guy going out there and you're like, 'You know what? As bad as we might be playing at the time, this guy can right the ship for us.' "