December 15, 2017

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Fish win on an epic scale

Winnipeg Goldeyes enjoy a champagne shower after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts.</p>

Winnipeg Goldeyes enjoy a champagne shower after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts.

On the biggest stage of their season, the Winnipeg Goldeyes came through with a performance for the ages.

An epic playoff series that had a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood screenplay ended Wednesday with the Goldeyes taking a bow before a raucous hometown crowd and repeating as American Association champions. Winnipeg destroyed Wichita 18-2 to put an exclamation point on one of the most surreal comeback stories you'll see at any level in any sport.

"This is going to be remembered right here. People are going to remember this championship more than any other championship we ever won," the team's undisputed leader, Reggie Abercrombie, said in the middle of the team's champagne-soaked celebration.

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On the biggest stage of their season, the Winnipeg Goldeyes came through with a performance for the ages.

An epic playoff series that had a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood screenplay ended Wednesday with the Goldeyes taking a bow before a raucous hometown crowd and repeating as American Association champions. Winnipeg destroyed Wichita 18-2 to put an exclamation point on one of the most surreal comeback stories you'll see at any level in any sport.

"This is going to be remembered right here. People are going to remember this championship more than any other championship we ever won," the team's undisputed leader, Reggie Abercrombie, said in the middle of the team's champagne-soaked celebration.

Goldeyes Shawn Pleffner and Josh Romanski celebrate Pleffner's home run to score the 7th, 8th and 9th runs for the Goldeyes.</p>

Goldeyes Shawn Pleffner and Josh Romanski celebrate Pleffner's home run to score the 7th, 8th and 9th runs for the Goldeyes.

After all, it was Wichita players who poured on to the field Monday celebrating what they believed to be the second title in franchise history after recording the final out in a 3-2 game four victory.

Only it was wiped out by the home plate umpire, who called a balk just as the pitch which induced the apparent game-ending out was delivered. Armed with new life but still down to their last strike, the Goldeyes tied the game in the bottom of the ninth and then kept their season alive by walking it off in the 17th inning of the longest game in league history.

Wednesday's winner-take-all game five didn't have any of the same drama as the Goldeyes put up nine runs in the second inning, added five more in the fourth and then cruised to victory. As a result, things quickly took on a party-like atmosphere as more than 6,300 fans anticipated the team's fourth title in their 24-year history — and the first one they've ever captured at Shaw Park.

"The best team doesn't always win these. But I can honestly say the best team in 2017 won the championship this year," said an emotional manager Rick Forney, who called winning at home "like Christmas morning." "This team is a joy to be around. Maybe the best Goldeyes team ever. From start to finish we had a talented group. They just played really high level baseball all season long. They did it, man."

It was Winnipeg's most experienced, accomplished batters who quickly set the tone. Josh Romanski, Abercrombie, Shawn Pleffner and David Bergin hit 3-4-5-6 in the lineup and came out swinging following a combined 2-for-26 effort in game four. On Wednesday, they went 10-for-16 with two home runs, 11 RBI and 11 runs scored.

Winnipeg Goldeyes celbrate after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening.</p>

Winnipeg Goldeyes celbrate after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening.

"Me, Pleff, Bergin, Romo, we were like we gotta do it today. Our pitching staff held us in the game (Monday), we gotta do it today," said Abercrombie, who had a bases-loaded single that scored two in the second and an RBI double in the fourth. The 37-year-old former major leaguer took the celebration to the grassroots, personally greeting fans as they were filing out of the park Wednesday, posing for selfies and high-fiving strangers.

Pleffner had the game of his life by hitting for the cycle — the first in franchise playoff history. He singled, doubled, tripled and homered and finished with five RBI.

"It’s awesome. We’ve been waiting for this all season long. I told you guys earlier we need to come out here banging or else we’re not going to win and that’s exactly what we did tonight. Our pitching has been holding us in there all season long, all playoffs long. And you know we just came around with the bats today," said Pleffner, who won the league's regular-season batting titled but had struggled mightily in the finals.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Goldeyes hoist the trophy after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening in Shaw Park in downtown Winnipeg.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Goldeyes hoist the trophy after taking the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening in Shaw Park in downtown Winnipeg.

Bergin had three hits and three RBI including a two-run homer. Romanski singled, walked twice and scored two runs. Catcher Mason Katz had a big night with a two-run homer and two-run double. Andrew Sohn, Wes Darvill and David Rohm drove in the other runs.

"With our lineup, we know that any day we can come out and put up 18. Once the train gets rolling and once it leaves the station, it’s just watch out," said Romanski, who called Wednesday's game the most enjoyable he's ever played in his career.

"We noticed throughout the season we had a target on our backs. Teams shot for us, came for us. That locker room has got a lot of champion in it and we just proved that," he said.

Goldeyes pitcher Edwin Carl was stellar in winning a franchise-record fifth playoff game, all in the past two seasons. The previous record of four was held by Forney.

"I don't know if people are going to think that was a fluke thing. The baseball gods were on our side and we were able to show we're the best team in the league," said Carl.

Wichita starter Tim Brown, who entered the game as their all-time leader in wins and just one off the all-time American Association mark, was chased in the second inning after giving up six runs. For the Wingnuts, it's clear Monday's devastating loss carried over. They've reached the finals in six of the past seven seasons, but have one title in 2014 to show for it.

"You could tell. They were very solemn the whole game," said Pleffner.

A teary eyed Reggie Abercrombie embraces teammate Victor Capellan after the Winnipeg Goldeyes took the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening.</p></p>

A teary eyed Reggie Abercrombie embraces teammate Victor Capellan after the Winnipeg Goldeyes took the American Association Championship over the Wichita Wingnuts Wednesday evening.

Winnipeg won the now-defunct Northern League championship back in 1994 at Winnipeg Stadium. Their American Association titles in 2012 and 2016 both occurred on the road against Wichita. Now they have finally christened Shaw Park, 18 years after it opened.

"This right here is amazing to me. I just want to be remembered. Everybody want to go down in history. This team right here, I told them today, this is a legacy," said Abercrombie.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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