September 21, 2017

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Fish ride madcap game to final

Wild win puts Goldeyes in position to repeat as AA champs

The great Yogi Berra once said “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” That was certainly the case Sunday as the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Lincoln Saltdogs took turns trading big rallies and major momentum swings in one of the wildest baseball games ever played around these parts.

When the dust finally settled on a warm and windy day, it was Winnipeg that was left standing with a 10-9 victory that puts the Goldeyes back in the American Association championship series.

More than 3,500 fans who witnessed it at Shaw Park won’t soon forget it. Winnipeg blew two separate leads of four and three runs, while Lincoln coughed up a pair of their own leads including the bottom of the ninth when the Goldeyes drew a pair of bases-loaded walks that tied and then ended the game and the best-of-five series.

“Crazy things happen sometimes,” is how Goldeyes manager Rick Forney could best explain what just occurred. “Momentum swung a lot today. All that matters is that it swung for us at the right time.”

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The great Yogi Berra once said "It ain’t over ‘til it’s over." That was certainly the case Sunday as the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Lincoln Saltdogs took turns trading big rallies and major momentum swings in one of the wildest baseball games ever played around these parts.

When the dust finally settled on a warm and windy day, it was Winnipeg that was left standing with a 10-9 victory that puts the Goldeyes back in the American Association championship series.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Goldeyes celebrate a 3-1 series win over the Lincoln Saltdogs.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Goldeyes celebrate a 3-1 series win over the Lincoln Saltdogs.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Goldeyes Andrew Sohn (4) beats the throw to Lincoln Saltdogs Ivan Marin (7).</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Goldeyes Andrew Sohn (4) beats the throw to Lincoln Saltdogs Ivan Marin (7).

More than 3,500 fans who witnessed it at Shaw Park won’t soon forget it. Winnipeg blew two separate leads of four and three runs, while Lincoln coughed up a pair of their own leads including the bottom of the ninth when the Goldeyes drew a pair of bases-loaded walks that tied and then ended the game and the best-of-five series.

"Crazy things happen sometimes," is how Goldeyes manager Rick Forney could best explain what just occurred. "Momentum swung a lot today. All that matters is that it swung for us at the right time."

So how exactly did we get here?

'Crazy things happen sometimes. Momentum swung a lot today. All that matters is that it swung for us at the right time'— Rick Forney

Well, the Goldeyes were seemingly in prime position after a big second inning in which they took a 4-0 lead. They had their ace on the mound in Kevin McGovern and a trip to the finals was in sight. The Saltdogs appeared to be reeling with the end of their season staring them in the face.

But Lincoln showed plenty of fight. Rookie Joe Robbins hit a two-out, three-run homer in the top of the third off McGovern. Curt Smith then made it a whole new ballgame when he led off the fourth with a solo shot.

McGovern’s day would end after just four innings. It was a surprisingly sub-par outing for the Goldeyes pitcher who won a league-best 13 regular-season games along with a sparkling 2.56 ERA.

Robbins then did it again, hitting a two-out solo home run in the fifth off reliever Edwin Carl to give the Saltdogs a lead that seemed improbable just a few innings earlier.

The Goldeyes mounted their first of two comebacks in the sixth. Andrew Sohn began the inning with a single, and then Casey Turgeon joined him on the basepaths when his sacrifice bunt was booted by Lincoln’s pitcher. David Rohm followed with a single — his third hit of the day and seventh in the past two games — to score Sohn. Josh Romanski singled to load the bases for Reggie Abercrombie, who delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Goldeyes the lead again.

David Bergin came through with a double that brought in two more runs and put the Goldeyes ahead 8-5. Bergin had belted a two-run homer in the second inning which Forney called the furthest ball he’s ever seen hit at Shaw Park.

Lincoln used the long ball once again to make cut the deficit to two, as Christian Ibarra hit a solo homer in the seventh off reliever Mitchell Lambson. Then came the wacky ninth.

Nathanial Maggio hit a solo home run to begin the inning off Goldeyes closer Ryan Chaffee to make it 8-7 — Lincoln’s fifth homer of the day and ninth of the series to the Goldeyes one. After getting the next two outs, Chaffee issued a walk and wild pitch, then gave up a run-scoring double by Cesar Valera to tie it up.

Randolph Oduber then hit what looked to be an inning-ending grounder, but Sohn booted it allowing Valera to score.

"I told Chaffee before we started the bottom of the ninth inning these guys are going to pick you up. And they did it," said Forney.

Shawn Pleffner opened the inning with a walk, while Bergin followed with a broken-bat single. Wes Darvill moved them over with a sacrifice bunt, and then Mason Katz was intentionally walked to load the bases. Lincoln closer Michael Wagner then threw seven more straight balls — walking Sohn on four straight to tie the game, then getting to a 3-0 count on Turgeon before manager Bobby Brown pulled him.

In came JR Bunda to face down the ultimate pressure-cooker — he couldn’t afford to throw a ball. But he did just that, putting his one and only pitch in the dirt to end the game and the series.

"I’ve never seen that," Forney said of the bizarre pitching change. "It was a pretty tough situation to put (Bunda) into."

Forney credited the crowd, which was standing and cheering throughout the final at-bats, with helping to create an "unsettling feeling" for Lincoln pitchers and swing the momentum.

"It wasn’t looking good there for a while. Our club’s been playing 27 outs all season. Until they tell us we can’t play anymore, that’s when we leave the field," he said

Bergin said he knew he was in for a big game after he "figured my swing out in the shower." He said teammates had laughed at him when he told them earlier in the day about his moment of reckoning.

"I’m super happy with all the guys. We battled throughout the whole entire game. Everybody came in backing each other up. It’s just so impressive to watch all these guys play together as a team," said Bergin, the big off-season trade acquisition who said this is the type of moment he dreamed about when coming to play in Winnipeg where his fiancée lives.

"Not one moment in this ball game did I see anybody hanging their head. We knew this game wasn’t over. The more we kept playing and getting the next guy up, we just saw the spirit and the power of everybody just going in. Everybody wanted it," he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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