By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
The Winnipeg Goldeyes needed extra innings in Game 1 of their best-of-five semi-final playoff series against the St. Paul Saints Thursday night, but ultimately overcame with a 3-2 victory in a defensive showdown.
Being the opening game of the playoffs, the Fish sent their ace to the hill — Andrew ‘Ace’ Walker — who finished the regular season an impressive 10-4, with a 3.37 ERA in 21 appearances.
Walker was on the mark for most of the night, shutting down 10 consecutive Saints batters after allowing a pair of hits in the first two innings.
Defence was the name of the game.
“There’s two sides in baseball. I take a lot of pride in my defence,” said left fielder Jon Weber, who made three notable grabs in the field Thursday, including a home run saving snag in the second and a beauty diving catch in the seventh that halted another potential run from scoring.
Weber, who manager Rick Forney called his most valuable asset earlier in the week, has been a respected presence on a team looking for a title. Weber has won 10 championships in his 12-year professional career.
“Defence always is (the difference),” added Weber, just before he embraced with Goldeyes owner Sam Katz following the game. “All we had to do was give our starting pitchers a chance and let our bullpen come in and do their job. It was a perfect example tonight.”
Weber can do it with his bat too, as he was presented with the “Hit the Cover Off the Ball Award” by general manager Andrew Collier for his team-leading .326 batting average during the regular season.
The Goldeyes struck first as second baseman Price Kendall, who was named the American Association’s 2011 Rookie of the Year, brought home Fehlandt Lentini on a sac-fly in the third.
In the seventh, St. Paul’s Ole Sheldon took an 0-1 Walker pitch deep – a leadoff home run that tied the game 1-1. Walker was pulled soon after in favour of Ian Thomas who finished the frame and started the eighth, but was one of three Goldeye arms to throw in a tumultuous inning that saw two unfortunate Winnipeg errors by Wes Long and Brian Myrow.
Price Kendall RBI’d again in the seventh, a single that scored Lou Ott that made it 2-1 Goldeyes.
When Winnipeg’s go-to closer Jamie Vermilyea (17 saves, 1.81 ERA) came in with runners on in the eighth, he tossed a wild pitch that scored Jake Krause. Vermilyea stayed in the game however, pitching three complete innings and earning the win.
The 2-2 score lasted until the bottom of the tenth, when Wes Long came to the plate and smacked a bases loaded walk-off single that scored Brian Myrow.
The Saints will stay in town for Game 2 Friday night before hosting the Fish for Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) in St. Paul.
In Game 1 of the AA’s other semi-final series, the South Division champion Grand Prairie AirHogs slipped past the Central Division champion Wichita Wingnuts 4-3 Thursday night in Grand Prairie, Texas.