It was a beautiful night for a ballgame under a crystal-clear sky -- too bad there was nary a beautiful game to be seen in Winnipeg on Friday night.
Instead, the Blue Bombers staggered at Investors Group Field, while the Winnipeg Goldeyes were mired in their own mess at Shaw Park. They dropped their series opener against the visiting Kansas City T-Bones 8-3, and fell to 45-39 with the loss.
That stings especially hot in the twilight of the American Association season, where every game is critical. This one, though, should have been winnable. The Fish came into Shaw Park on Friday rolling red-hot: they'd gone 8-2 in their previous 10 and had just blazed through Sioux City for a 3-1 series win.
Meanwhile, the T-Bones improved to just 35-50 on the season, and are sitting near the basement of the American Association's wild-card race.
And yet, through most of Friday's match, the recently beefed-up Goldeyes were out-hit, out-pitched and outplayed. Consider: when Fish starting pitcher Matt Rusch came off the mound in the fifth inning, he'd already given up 12 hits, walked three batters and watched the T-Bones dash for eight runs.
In the first inning, he gave up three singles in a row -- the third, a right-field swat by T-Bones outfielder Kennard Jones, drew first blood when designated hitter Joey Gathwright scampered home. That wound was made worse when Fish right-fielder Ray Sadler overthrew third baseman Yurendell de Caster, who recently returned to the Fish fold. The error allowed Kansas City first baseman Jairo Perez to notch the visitors' second run.
Sadler did atone for that error in the bottom of the first, when he hammered out a double that scored de Caster and first baseman Ryan Scoma to tie the game at deuces. But the sloppy first set the tone, and the Fish couldn't seem to change the game's tune.
The home team's bats fell off in the middle of the game, and T-Bones starter Rick Zagone gave up only three hits between the bottom of the second and when he was retired by reliever Keith Picht for the seventh. The Fish, by contrast, got burned for two runs in the fourth and torched for four one inning later.
Emotionally, that fifth was the killer: with Rusch's pitch count creeping up through the 80s already, he gave up three hits and walked three more en route to those four T-Bones scores.
But the winning score came the inning before, when Felix Molina singled to get on base, then scrambled home on a whack by catcher Trevor Coleman two hitters later. The Fish defence got Coleman and third baseman Brandon Jones out on a nifty double-play, but couldn't spark their own offence enough to get even that fourth run back.
They would end the game with 10 hits, too few of them timely, though center-fielder Tyler Graham did breathe some life into the bottom of the ninth when his RBI double scored veteran Fehlandt Lentini. But there were already a pair of outs on the board, and when Amos Ramon struck out a minute later, that was all she wrote for the Fish's chances at starting the three-series on a winning note.
A spot of good news: the Gary-SouthShore RailCats, who currently sit atop the wild-card race, got creamed by the Sioux Falls Canaries on Friday. So the Goldeyes kept pace with their rivals, even as they missed a chance to scramble higher up the ranks.
They'll have another chance at 6 p.m. today at Shaw Park when they play the second game against Kansas City. The series wraps up on Sunday afternoon.