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Goldeyes win in 17 innings, force winner-take-all Game 5 Tuesday night

The Wichita Wingnuts poured out of the dugout, jumping and hugging and cheering their American Association championship.

Only they hadn't won. In a surreal turn of events at Shaw Park Monday night, home plate umpire Joe Stegner called a balk on Wichita pitcher Ryan Kussmaul just before he induced what looked to be the series-winning play, a routine grounder in which Casey Turgeon was thrown out to seal a 3-2 victory.

But they didn't get the news until they were already partying on their opponent's field.

Incredibly, the Goldeyes were still alive as the stunned Wingnuts had to return to their dugout still needing one more out. Wes Darvill moved from second to third on the umpire's call. And Turgeon took advantage of his new lease on life by crushing a two-out, two-strike double to centre which scored Darvill to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

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The Wichita Wingnuts poured out of the dugout, jumping and hugging and cheering their American Association championship.

Only they hadn't won. In a surreal turn of events at Shaw Park Monday night, home plate umpire Joe Stegner called a balk on Wichita pitcher Ryan Kussmaul just before he induced what looked to be the series-winning play, a routine grounder in which Casey Turgeon was thrown out to seal a 3-2 victory. 

Wichita Wingnuts pitcher Ryan Kussmaul (31) celebrates prematurely with teammate TJ Mittelstaedt (15) thinking they defeated the Winnipeg Goldeyes in game four of the championship series in Winnipeg Monday, September 18, 2017. The ump ruled that the batter tipped the ball and not a strike. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Wichita Wingnuts pitcher Ryan Kussmaul (31) celebrates prematurely with teammate TJ Mittelstaedt (15) thinking they defeated the Winnipeg Goldeyes in game four of the championship series in Winnipeg Monday, September 18, 2017. The ump ruled that the batter tipped the ball and not a strike. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

But they didn't get the news until they were already partying on their opponent's field.

Incredibly, the Goldeyes were still alive as the stunned Wingnuts had to return to their dugout still needing one more out. Wes Darvill moved from second to third on the umpire's call. And Turgeon took advantage of his new lease on life by crushing a two-out, two-strike double to centre which scored Darvill to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

And then — more than three hours later, just after 1 a.m. Tuesday — the never-say-die Goldeyes walked it off in the bottom of the 17th before a smattering of the 3,505 fans who were at the start of the game, which turned into the longest in league history.

The improbable 4-3 victory keeps their season alive and forces a fifth and deciding game later tonight. 

'We play until they tell us we can't play anymore'

"That's one of the craziest games," Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said shortly after the win. "I've been saying it all year. We play until they tell us we can't play anymore."

Or, in this case, even after it appears you can't play anymore because you've just made the 27th and final out of the game. Only it turns out you didn't. Forney said he can't imagine what Wichita must be thinking to lose a game they appeared to have already locked up.

Winnipeg Goldeyes player Josh Romanski reacts after Wes Darvill scores the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Wichita Wingnuts in Game 4 of the American Association championship series at Shaw Park Monday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Winnipeg Goldeyes player Josh Romanski reacts after Wes Darvill scores the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Wichita Wingnuts in Game 4 of the American Association championship series at Shaw Park Monday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I would be throwing up," he said. "I feel for them. It's unfortunate. It can be tough."

As a result, the Goldeyes can capture their fourth championship in their 24-year history with another win tonight — and their third over Wichita following wins in 2012 and 2016 in Kansas. The Wingnuts are seeking their second-ever title.

Winnipeg got the start they wanted Monday. David Bergin led off the second with a walk, then moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. After Mason Katz grounded out, Andrew Sohn went deep over the left field wall to make it 2-0. Sohn didn't play Sunday because of a stiff neck, but he certainly seemed to be in fine form in taking Wichita starter Eddie Medina deep on the first pitch he saw.

After cruising through the first two innings, Winnipeg starter Charle Rosario ran into some trouble. Wichita opened the third with back-to-back singles, then loaded them with a one-out walk. Darvill made a jumping grab of a Brent Clevlen bullet to save what likely would have been a pair of runs. But TJ Mittelstaedt followed up with a hard, two-out single to centre to tie the game. Mittelstaedt, the Wingnuts third baseman, had a terrific finals with six hits and eight RBI in the four games against the Goldeyes. 

Josh Romanski made a spectacular diving catch in the sixth that temporarily kept the game tied. Wichita had opened the inning with a single, and Mittelstaedt looked like he'd surely smoked an extra-base hit — only to get robbed by the Goldeyes left-fielder. However, Matt Chavez hit a single to right to put runners on the corners with just one out. Richard Prigatano then drove in the go-ahead run with a single to centre.

Darvill began the ninth with a bloop single to left that could have been an error. The Wichita third baseman looked to have a play on the ball but it dropped in front of him. Katz bunted him over to second. Sohn struck out, leaving it all up to Turgeon.

And that's when things got bizarre.

Turgeon said following the game he actually heard Stegner yell "balk" right before he swung at the pitch and grounded out seemingly to end the game. However, Stegner made no apparent sign of the call at the time and waited to inform Wichita until they had started their celebration.

"Being a hitter when you hear balk it's a free swing. I heard balk, I swung at it, they made the play, he called me out, they start running to the mound, but I start walking back to home plate," Turgeon said of knowing he'd get another chance.

"I think the pitcher kinda let his guard down there for a second thinking they won everything. He gave me a pitch I could handle, I shortened my swing up and put a good swing on it."

Turgeon also factored into the winning run. He led off the 17th with a single, then came home to score on David Rohm's double to right field. Now it was the Goldeyes turn to pour out of the dugout and celebrate.

"I was absolutely thrilled, man. I haven't been that happy in a long time. I was absolutely jacked for it," said Turgeon.

Prior to getting to the 17th, Wichita had a glorious chance to go ahead in the 13th. They put a pair of runners on base and were then robbed by Sohn, who made a leaping grab to end the inning and stole what easily would have scored a run.

Mikey O'Brien came on in the 10th and was stellar in tossing six scoreless innings to keep giving his team a chance. He ended with eight strikeouts. Zack Dodson came on to pitch a scoreless 17th to record the win.

"It's a championship series. You don't know what to expect. We're gonna bring it, they're gonna bring it," said O'Brien. "That's playoff baseball. That everyone is going to put it all on the line for every single pitch. It's fun."

Winnipeg's win came despite a power outage from their most reliable hitters. Reggie Abercrombie has carried the Goldeyes on numerous night during his career.

But Monday was not one of them. He struck out four times — including twice with runners in scoring position — and went 0-for-7. In fact, Winnipeg's 3-4-5-6 hitters were a combined 2-for-26 in the game.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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