Fresh off their exhilarating 2016 championship run, the Winnipeg Goldeyes entered 2017 looking to become the first American Association team in 10 years to win back-to-back titles.

 

The championship defence began on May 18th when the Goldeyes beat the expansion Cleburne Railroaders 5-3 in the first ever game played at The Depot at Cleburne Station.  Returning outfielder Josh Romanski’s two-out, three-run home run in the top of the seventh proved the difference.  It was the first of many clutch hits for Romanski who would become the first Goldeye since 1998 to capture the league’s Most Valuable Player award.  Fellow returnee Mikey O’Brien shut down Cleburne with six strong innings, while becoming only the third pitcher in Goldeyes’ history to make multiple starts on Opening Night.

 

The following night, the Goldeyes benefitted from another late home run.  This time, it was Reggie Abercrombie’s three-run shot in the top of the seventh that paved the way to a 6-4 win over Cleburne.  It was Abercrombie’s 100th American Association long ball, adding to the career league record he set in July of 2016.  The former Major Leaguer turned in another fine season, blasting 16 home runs and finishing second in the American Association with 81 RBI.  Abercrombie’s 55 homers since first joining the Goldeyes in 2014 rank third most in team history.

 

The Railroaders managed a split of the season-opening four-game series, but the Goldeyes bounced back by sweeping a three-game set from the Salina Stockade.  Salina served as a traveling team that balanced the league’s schedule after the Laredo Lemurs ceased operations shortly before spring training.  In the series finale against Salina, Kevin McGovern threw a complete game, four-hit shutout.  The winning pitcher in the 2016 championship-clinching game at Wichita, McGovern continued to cement his place as one of the American Association’s premier starting pitchers.  The left-hander posted a 13-3 record, finished third in the league with a 2.56 ERA, and became only the fourth pitcher in league history to record three seasons of 100-plus strikeouts.

 

The Salina series was unique in that it took place on neutral grounds at Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.  Following the sweep, the Goldeyes remained in Kansas to face the Wingnuts in a rematch of the 2016 Championship Series.  After the Wingnuts won the first game 19-4, the Goldeyes evened the series by grinding out a 3-2 victory in 10 innings.  Trailing 2-1 late in the game, Winnipeg scratched across the tying run in the top of the eighth before taking the lead for good in the 10th on a David Bergin solo homer.  Bergin had tormented Goldeyes’ pitchers each of the previous two years, and was acquired from the St. Paul Saints in February as part of a three-way trade with the Gary SouthShore RailCats.  The Tampa, Florida native continued to assert himself as one of the most feared bats in the league, finishing in the top-six in all three triple crown categories, and earning Postseason All-Star accolades at DH.

 

In the rubber game against Wichita, new left-hander Zack Dodson struck out a career-high 10 batters to lead the way in an 8-2 win.  Dodson finished 11th in the American Association with 98 strikeouts and would eventually pick up the win in the most memorable game of the year.

 

The Goldeyes completed their season-opening road trip with a 7-3 record, and pulled out a late win on three different occasions.  This “play until we run out of outs” mentality was pivotal in the club’s success right until the very final moments of the season.

 

The Goldeyes finally returned to Winnipeg on May 29th and raised the 2016 championship banner prior to the opener of a four-game series against Sioux Falls.  The Canaries spoiled the home opener festivities, but the Goldeyes rallied to win the final three contests.  The Goldeyes then closed out the homestand by taking two of three from a challenging Lincoln Saltdogs club.

 

Over the next three weeks, the Goldeyes endured their most difficult stretch of 2017.  After the series victory over the Saltdogs, the Goldeyes lost 14 of their next 20 games.  11 of the 14 losses were by three runs or less, and the adversity reached its peak during a 1-6 road trip that culminated with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Saints.

 

On June 28th, Winnipeg beat Gary SouthShore 6-4 to snap a season-high five-game losing streak, but the RailCats edged the Goldeyes the following night 8-7 in 11 innings.  The loss dropped the Goldeyes below .500 at 19-20 and left them 7.0 games behind the Saints in the American Association North Division.

 

In the face of challenging odds, the Goldeyes gradually turned their season around for good on Canada Day weekend.  Winnipeg swept a three-game series from the Canaries, outscoring Sioux Falls 25-12.  The highlight of the series came on July 2nd when McGovern punctuated the sweep with a complete game, three-hit shutout.  During this series, the Goldeyes also outscored the Canaries 12-0 in the first inning.  This began a trend that helped define the offence for the remainder of the season.

 

The Goldeyes sustained their momentum with a 4-3 road trip through Wichita and Gary.  On July 6th against the RailCats, Edwin Carl fired seven-plus shutout innings as part of a 5-0 win.  Carl finished ninth in the league with 103 strikeouts, and joined McGovern as just the sixth and seventh pitchers in Goldeyes’ history to post multiple seasons of 100 or more strikeouts.  The Goldeyes’ pitching staff as a whole combined for 751 strikeouts, shattering the team record of 722 set back in 1997.

 

Upon returning home, the Goldeyes had improved to 26-23, and narrowed the gap in the North Division to 4.5 games.  In one of the most dominating series in recent memory, the Goldeyes swept three games from Sioux City, outscoring the Explorers 37-4 in the process.  Much like the series sweep over Sioux Falls earlier in the month, the Goldeyes outpaced the Explorers 15-0 in the first inning.  Winnipeg’s first-inning dominance was unprecedented on both sides of the ball.  Not only did the offence combine for 92 runs scored in the first, the pitching staff held the opposition to a paltry 27 runs while throwing up a first-inning zero in 84 of the 100 regular season games.

 

In the July 13th series finale against Sioux City, the Goldeyes’ offence combined for a season-high five homers, including two from new catcher Mason Katz.  Signed just before Opening Night as a super utility player, Katz eventually settled in as the team’s regular catcher, and made an impact on both sides of the ball.  The former St. Louis Cardinals’ farmhand hit 19 homers, collected 66 RBI, and caught the second most games of any backstop in the league.

 

On July 14th, the Kansas City T-Bones arrived in Winnipeg for three games.  In the series-opener, Dodson carried a no-hit bid into the sixth, while the offence scored seven times over the first two innings en route to a 16-1 rout.

 

The following night, the two former Northern League teams made history when the Goldeyes outlasted the T-Bones 12-11 in 14 innings.  The game lasted five hours and 25 minutes, breaking the American Association’s record for longest game by duration (the previous mark was five hours and 22 minutes set by El Paso and Wichita in 2011).  In addition to the record-setting length, the game itself involved a series of events worthy of their own documentary.  The Goldeyes wiped out an early 5-0 deficit and led 9-7 before the T-Bones evened things in the top of the ninth.  As the game progressed deep into extra innings, Kansas City was forced to use their centre fielder on the mound.  The T-Bones then took an 11-9 lead in the top of the 13th, but the Goldeyes rallied to tie the game in the bottom half, including the seventh RBI of the night from shortstop Andrew Sohn.  Sohn also collected six base hits, which tied an 18-year-old Goldeyes’ record.  Tied at 11-11 in the bottom of the 14th, the depleted T-Bones turned to right-handed pitcher Matt Sergey who had thrown more than 100 pitches in a start just two nights before.  In an effort to help his team, Sergey volunteered to throw left-handed, and a wild pitch during an intentional walk attempt allowed the winning run to score from third base.  Incredibly, this night would not go down as the most dramatic game of the 2017 season.

 

Sohn’s performance was the highlight of a dynamic year for the Goldeyes’ new shortstop.  Also a former Cardinals’ farmhand, Sohn batted .302 with 11 homers, 45 RBI, 30 stolen bases, and tied for the American Association lead with 88 runs scored.  Defensively, Sohn fielded more chances than any shortstop in the league, and was voted the American Association’s Postseason All-Star at the position.

 

The T-Bones salvaged the finale of the weekend series at Shaw Park, and the Goldeyes remained home for three games against the Saints.  By now, the Goldeyes had won 12 of their last 16 and had wiped out what was once a 7.0-game deficit in the North.  Another first-inning outburst helped the Goldeyes to a 10-1 win in the series-opener, which gave Winnipeg sole possession of first place for the first time all year.

 

The following night, the Goldeyes enjoyed one of their most memorable wins of the regular season.  McGovern squared off against former Major League right-hander Mark Hamburger.  The duo went into the night with a combined 16-3 record, and both were headed to the All-Star Game later that month.  Pitching ruled much of the night with the Saints taking a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning.  After the Goldeyes pushed across a run to make it 3-2, returning third baseman Wes Darvill ripped a walk-off, three-run homer off of Hamburger to cap a stunning 5-3 victory.  2017 was a breakout season for the Canadian-born Darvill who hit .309 with 49 RBI and 30 stolen bases.  For a second straight year, Darvill led all American Association third basemen in total chances, and earned both Mid-season and Postseason All-Star honours.  On July 19th, the Goldeyes hit five home runs for a second time in less than a week to beat the Saints 11-5 and sweep the three-game set.

 

The Goldeyes headed into the all-star break with three contests at Kansas City’s CommunityAmerica Ballpark.  The T-Bones won the first two games before Winnipeg avoided a sweep with a gritty win on July 23rd.  In the top of the ninth, Abercrombie hit a game-tying home run off eventual American Association Reliever of the Year Cody Winiarski.  Darvill then manufactured what proved to be the winning run in the 11th, reaching on an infield single, stealing both second and third base, and then scoring on a wild pitch.  The T-Bones threatened in the bottom of the inning, but rookie second baseman Jordan Ebert made a game-saving, sliding stop on a groundball that stranded the tying and winning runs on base.  Ebert hit .316 over 48 games in just his second year of professional baseball while providing quality defence at second.

 

The Goldeyes were well-represented at the All-Star Game in Ottawa.  Manager Rick Forney and hitting coach Tom Vaeth led the American Association staff.  Former Goldeyes’ skipper Hal Lanier piloted the Can-Am League All-Stars having won the league title with the Ottawa Champions in 2016.  Romanski chipped in two hits, while McGovern and closer Ryan Chaffee combined for two and one-third scoreless innings.  Chaffee helped anchor a Goldeyes’ bullpen that proved a major strength in the second half.  The veteran right-hander earned 21 saves, which tied for second in the American Association and now rank second on the Goldeyes’ single-season list.

 

Coming out of the all-star break, Winnipeg hosted long-time rival Fargo-Moorhead in a four-game set at Shaw Park.  The RedHawks took the opener 7-5 in 10 innings, but the Goldeyes once again demonstrated their resolve with a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth that tied the game.  Abercrombie drove in one of the runs, which set an American Association record for career RBI.

 

The RedHawks won the next two games as well, which briefly dropped the Goldeyes into third place in the North Division.  However, the Goldeyes avoided the sweep with a 16-5 win on July 30th that vaulted the team back into first.  The Goldeyes would not relinquish their hold on first place for the rest of the season.  In the July 30th win, the Goldeyes’ offence combined for five home runs for a third time in the month of July, including a grand slam from returning right fielder David Rohm.  Rohm was once again a major presence both on the field and in the clubhouse.  The second-year Goldeye was among the league leaders in runs, doubles, and walks, and has hit a combined .413 in 19 playoff games over the past two years.

 

The Goldeyes were as hot as anyone in the league, but there was still more than a month left on the schedule, and the Goldeyes were about to face a monstrous challenge—11 games on the road in 10 days that would take the club to Sioux City, then all the way out to Gary, and finally back west to Sioux Falls.

 

The road trip had the ability to make or break the Goldeyes’ postseason hopes, and the dramatics were in full force from the outset.  In the series-opener against the Explorers, Abercrombie launched a mammoth, two-run home run in the top of the ninth in an eventual 7-5, 10-inning win.  The following day, the clubs battled in a double header that was necessitated by a game postponed back in June.  In the top of the sixth (of a seven-inning game) of the opener, Winnipeg trailed 5-1 before rallying for four runs to tie the score.  The following inning, first baseman Shawn Pleffner cracked a two-out, grand slam that carried the Goldeyes to a 9-5 win.  Pleffner assembled one of the finest seasons in franchise history, batting .340 with 30 doubles, 10 homers, and 76 RBI—all while providing stellar defence at first base.  The .340 average was best in the American Association, making Pleffner the Goldeyes’ first league batting champion in seven years.

 

In the nightcap of the August 1st double header, left-handed reliever Mitchell Lambson threw five innings of one-run ball in the first start of his seven-year professional career.  The game was suspended due to rain in the fifth, but Lambson officially notched the win when the Goldeyes closed things out the following evening.  Lambson was a key cog in the Goldeyes’ bullpen, pitching to a 3.44 ERA in his final 30 regular season appearances.  Fellow left-hander Kenny Mathews excelled as well, giving up just six earned runs in his last 27 games (1.72 ERA).  As a whole, Goldeyes’ relievers combined for a 3.41 ERA from June 9th through the end of the year.

 

The Goldeyes finished off a sweep of Sioux City in the regularly scheduled game on August 2nd, winning a rain-shortened affair 4-0.  It was the first time the Goldeyes had swept a four-game series at Lewis and Clark Park since 2004.

 

The Goldeyes pressed on by winning three of four from the RailCats at US Steel Yard.  After splitting the first two games in the series, the Goldeyes outlasted the RailCats on August 5th 6-5 in 10 innings.  The next afternoon, Winnipeg once again showed resolve in the face of adversity.  Gary SouthShore plated four runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game, but Sohn immediately put the Goldeyes back in front with a two-run homer in the ninth.

 

Winnipeg then won two of three from the Canaries to close out the road trip with an amazing 9-2 record.  The stretch helped fortify the Goldeyes’ position in the playoff race, and was even more impressive given the fact that 10 of the 11 starts were made on three days of rest.

 

The team enjoyed a well-deserved day off on August 10th, but it was still a busy day for Forney who swung a major deal with the RailCats.  The Goldeyes acquired two-time American Association All-Star pitcher Charle Rosario in exchange for reliever Daniel Minor, four players to be named later, and cash considerations.

 

Rosario made his Goldeyes’ debut the following night in the opener of a three-game series against Wichita.  The right-hander was nothing short of spectacular, tossing seven shutout innings and carrying a perfect game into the sixth.  The Wingnuts went on to win that game late, but the Goldeyes won the next two to claim the series.  Pleffner helped even the set on August 12th with four RBI.  In the August 13th rubber match, the dominant Goldeyes’ offence not only plated 14 runs on 21 hits, but scored at least one run in seven consecutive innings.

 

The Saints were next, and the Goldeyes won three out of four to widen the gap between themselves and the two-time defending North Division champions.  McGovern and Hamburger hooked up in another great pitching duel on August 14th, and much like the game from the previous month, the Saints carried a lead late into the night.  However, the Goldeyes erased a 3-0 deficit by scoring six times in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a two-run, go-ahead single from Abercrombie.  The comeback allowed McGovern to pick up his 10th win of the year, while Victor Capellan fanned two batters in a scoreless ninth to finish things off.  Capellan may very well have been the most valuable reliever in the American Association, pacing the circuit with 50 appearances and striking out more batters (75) than many of the league’s starting pitchers.

 

On August 19th, the Goldeyes added versatile left-handed hitter Casey Turgeon.  The last roster addition of the season proved one of the most important as Turgeon hit .339 over the final 17 regular season games, while making a huge impact during the playoffs.

 

After splitting a four-game road series against the RedHawks, the Goldeyes returned home and won five of six from the Explorers and Canaries.  Chaffee picked up his 20th save of the year in a 5-3 win over Sioux City on August 23rd, becoming just the third pitcher in franchise history to reach that milestone.  Although they lost 8-7 in 11 innings to the Explorers on August 24th, the Goldeyes had yet another demonstration of “fighting until there were no more outs.”  Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the 10th, Romanski tied the game with a two-out single.  When it seemed Sioux City may have put the game out of reach with five runs in the 11th, the Goldeyes scored four times in the bottom half before the game ended with the tying run on base.

 

The Goldeyes swept three games from the Canaries to close out the homestand and then traveled to St. Paul’s CHS Field for the final road series of the regular season.  The club was now on the verge of clinching a postseason berth, and the Goldeyes moved closer to that goal with a 13-5 win in the series-opener on August 29th.  Rohm hit his second grand slam of the season, and O’Brien became just the fifth pitcher in Goldeyes’ history to post multiple seasons of 10-plus wins.  The following night, Rosario earned a similar distinction after leading Winnipeg in a 2-0 shutout victory.  It was Rosario’s 10th win of 2017, making the veteran righty only the sixth pitcher in the 12-year history of the American Association to have three seasons of double digit victories.

 

Heading into the August 31st series finale against the Saints, the Goldeyes needed just one more win to clinch the North Division.  A five-run top of the fourth was all the Goldeyes needed as Carl held the Saints scoreless for seven innings on the way to a second consecutive team shutout.  The 5-0 win secured the North Division and marked the 19th playoff appearance in the Goldeyes’ 24-year history.  It seemed fitting to clinch in St. Paul where just two months earlier the Goldeyes had suffered their lowest point of the year.

 

The playoffs were now assured, but there was one more regular season challenge ahead.  The Goldeyes closed out their schedule against the RedHawks who were very much alive in the wild card race.  In the first of four at Shaw Park, Winnipeg posted a third consecutive team shutout with a 5-0 win over the RedHawks.  Rookie catcher Tanner DeVinny hit his first career home run.

 

During the weekend, Bergin, Darvill, Romanski, and Sohn were announced as Postseason All-Stars, while Romanski was officially named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

 

The RedHawks kept their playoff hopes alive by winning games two and three of the series, which set up an eventful final day of the regular season on September 4th.  The RedHawks were joined by the RailCats and T-Bones as all having a shot at the American Association wild card with one game left to play.  Rosario took the mound for Winnipeg and tied a league record by making his 25th start of the year.  Katz blasted three home runs, and the Goldeyes won 8-3 to finish the regular season at 62-38.  While Fargo-Moorhead lost, both Gary SouthShore and Kansas City won their respective games.  All three clubs finished with identical 57-43 records with the RailCats winning the wild card by virtue of the three-way tiebreaker.

 

For the Goldeyes, the 62 wins rank as the second most in franchise history.  Following the June 29th loss to the RailCats, the Goldeyes went 43-18 the rest of the way, effectively playing better than .700 baseball for more than two months.

 

The playoffs began on September 6th, and the Goldeyes drew the Central Division champion Lincoln Saltdogs.  The two teams split six games during the regular season and were meeting for the first time since June.

 

For much of Game One, the Saltdogs appeared to do everything right, building a 4-0 lead after five innings.  However, just as they had done all throughout the regular season, the Goldeyes proved they were never out of a game.  Facing former Major League right-hander Shairon Martis, the Goldeyes tied things up with four runs in the top of the sixth.  After clutch relief performances from Carl and Lambson, Turgeon singled home the lead run with two outs in the top of the eighth.  Lincoln gained a spark in the bottom of the ninth when second baseman Cesar Valera singled up the middle leading off.  The spark was short-lived, though, as Abercrombie threw out Valera at second after trying to stretch the single into a double.  Chaffee secured the final two outs, and the Goldeyes won 5-4 to take a 1-0 series lead.

 

Lincoln won 13-0 in Game Two to split the games at Haymarket Park.  Although they lost, the Goldeyes’ defence did manage three groundball double plays, and the team’s defence proved a major strength throughout the playoffs.

 

The series shifted to Shaw Park for Game Three on September 9th.  The Goldeyes fired on all cylinders in a 6-2 win that moved them within one game of the American Association Championship Series.  Rosario struck out 10 batters over seven dominant innings, while Rohm led the offensive charge with four base hits.

 

Hoping to close things out in Game Four, the Goldeyes engaged the Saltdogs in one of the greatest postseason games in franchise history.  The Goldeyes took an early 4-0 lead, scoring four times in the second.  During the rally, Bergin launched a two-run home run to left-centre that Forney regarded as the longest he has ever seen at Shaw Park.  Fighting to keep their season alive, the Saltdogs bats roared to life with a barrage of home runs that put them in front 5-4.  The Goldeyes scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to regain the lead at 8-5, including a two-run double from Bergin.  To their credit, the Saltdogs continued fighting valiantly and refused to make things easy for the Goldeyes.  Lincoln tallied a run in the seventh and then scored three times in the top of the ninth to take a 9-8 lead.

 

Facing the prospect of a winner-take-all Game Five in which the Saltdogs would have significant momentum, Pleffner coaxed a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth to put the tying run aboard.  Bergin followed with his third hit of the night, and after Ebert pinch ran for Bergin, Darvill laid down a successful sacrifice bunt.  The Saltdogs elected to intentionally walk Katz, setting up a force at home, as well as a potential game-ending double play.  Sohn, however, drew an unintentional walk that forced home Pleffner with the tying run.  Turgeon was next and worked a 3-0 count when Lincoln summoned a new pitcher from the bullpen.  The reliever’s first offering was bounced in front of home plate, completing a four-pitch walk to Turgeon that ushered in Ebert with the series-clinching run.

 

The wild win advanced the Goldeyes to the 10th league final in team history where they would face the Wichita Wingnuts for a second consecutive year.

 

Wichita was appearing in the American Association playoffs for a league-record eighth time, and after sweeping the RailCats in the Division Series, had won nine consecutive games going back to the regular season.

 

In Game One, the Wingnuts remained hot and opened a 6-0 lead after two innings.  Extra-base hits from Abercrombie and Darvill helped pull the Goldeyes within 6-5.  After the Wingnuts scored three times in the fifth to push their advantage to 9-5, Bergin and Katz smacked solo home runs in the sixth to once again narrow the gap.  The score remained 9-7 before the Wingnuts broke the game open for good on a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.

 

The Wingnuts took an early 1-0 lead in Game Two, but Carl battled through several jams to keep the Goldeyes afloat.  In the top of the fifth, Winnipeg erupted for five runs to take their first lead of the Championship Series.  Sohn tied the game with a double and Turgeon promptly followed with a two-run homer to straightaway centre field.  Three batters later, Abercrombie capped the rally by homering over the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium batter’s eye.  Carl would settle in, striking out six and allowing just the one run over seven innings.  Abercrombie homered again in the ninth, while Capellan pitched two shutout innings to close out the 7-1 win.  The Goldeyes had tied the series and halted Wichita’s 10-game winning streak.

 

Game Three was originally scheduled for September 17th at Shaw Park, but was postponed to the following afternoon due to rain.  Winnipeg built a 3-0 lead after four innings before the Wingnuts chipped away with single runs in the fifth and sixth.  In the sixth, Darvill helped cut down the potential tying run with a tremendous relay throw from the outfield grass.  The Wingnuts scratched out three two-out runs in the top of the eighth to take a 5-3 lead, and their bullpen held on to push the Goldeyes to the brink of elimination.

 

During their 24-year history, the Winnipeg Goldeyes have enjoyed many great moments, but Game Four of the 2017 American Association Championship Series might be remembered as the greatest game of them all.

 

Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-five series, Rosario took the mound hoping to force a decisive fifth game.  Rosario kept the Goldeyes in the game, and Winnipeg grabbed an early lead when Sohn unloaded a two-run home run down the left field line in the bottom of the second.  The Wingnuts tied the game in the third, and scratched out the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth on a single.

 

In 2016, the Goldeyes won four elimination games during their championship run, but trailed the opposition for just three total innings in those four games.  In Game Four versus Wichita in 2017, the Goldeyes not only faced elimination, but trailed 3-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth.

 

It’s important to highlight the work of Rosario and the bullpen.  Both played a critical role in keeping the game close heading into the ninth.  Lambson, Capellan, Chaffee, and former Major League Rule V pick Evan Rutckyj combined for three and two-thirds scoreless innings, while Romanski made a key diving catch in the sixth to give Winnipeg a fighting chance in the ninth.

 

Facing tough closer Ryan Kussmaul, the Goldeyes gained some life when Darvill hit a popup behind third base that fell in for a single.  Katz sacrificed Darvill ahead to second before Kussmaul came back to strike out Sohn and whittle the Goldeyes’ season down to its final out.

 

Turgeon represented the last hope of 2017 and quickly fell behind in the count 0-2.  With the Goldeyes literally down to their final strike, Turgeon hit what appeared to be a routine groundball to third.  Wichita third baseman TJ Mittelstaedt fielded the ball and threw to first sending the Wingnuts into a championship celebration.  However, the celebration was cut short, and it was revealed that a balk had been called prior to the pitch being thrown.  The groundout effectively never took place, Darvill was awarded third, and the Goldeyes season was still alive.

 

Turgeon continued battling, and three pitches after it looked like the Goldeyes’ season had ended, Turgeon drilled Kussmaul’s next offering to deep left-centre.  Wingnuts’ centre fielder Jacob Morris dove hard to his right, but came up just short of a game-saving catch.  Darvill scored the tying run and the Goldeyes’ season was still very much alive.

 

The two titans of independent baseball would then battle well past the midnight hour.  Both clubs had opportunities to score, and at one point, the Wingnuts had a runner in scoring position in five consecutive innings.  O’Brien took over in the top of the 10th and delivered one of the finest relief performances in the history of the franchise, evoking memories of Jeff Sparks’ legendary performance against the RedHawks in the 1998 postseason.  O’Brien struck out eight batters over six scoreless innings to keep the game tied, and appeared to be throwing with his best velocity of the season.  Dodson relieved O’Brien in the 16th and struck out three more Wingnuts over the next two frames.

 

As the game neared 2:00 a.m. local time, the score was still deadlocked at 3-3 in the bottom of the 17th.  Turgeon, who had rescued Winnipeg from elimination in the ninth, opened the 17th with a single.  Initially up to sacrifice, Rohm fell behind 1-2 before drilling a ball into the right field corner.  Turgeon then raced home all the way from first, easily beating the relay throw, and the Goldeyes celebrated one of the most improbably moments in the history of Winnipeg sports.

 

The 17 innings tied a 10-year-old American Association record, while the Goldeyes and Wingnuts established a new record for longest game by duration at five hours and 59 minutes (breaking the record Winnipeg and Kansas City had set earlier in the year).

 

Rain postponed Game Five, providing both teams—the bullpens in particular—a much needed day of extra rest.

 

The winner-take-all Game Five finally took place on September 20th in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Shaw Park.  Those in attendance hoped to see the first championship clinched on Winnipeg soil since the Goldeyes’ Northern League title in 1994.  The Goldeyes quickly made sure that wish would be granted.

 

After a scoreless opening frame, the Goldeyes put nine runs on the board in the bottom of the second.  Katz began the avalanche with a two-run double off the left field wall.  Sohn and Rohm chipped in RBI singles, while Abercrombie drove in a pair to make it 6-0.  Pleffner put the exclamation point on the rally with an opposite-field, three-run homer.  Pleffner had singled earlier in that same inning, but was hardly finished for the night.

 

Carl was on the mound, and kept the Wingnuts’ potent lineup at bay for a second time in the series.  Carl allowed just two runs over six and one-third innings before leaving to a standing ovation from the capacity crowd in the top of the seventh.

 

By that point, the Goldeyes had a 15-2 lead thanks to five more runs in the fourth and another in the sixth.  Pleffner added a two-run double during the fourth-inning rally, and was followed by a titanic homer from Bergin that traveled over the Shaw Park batter’s eye.

 

After Lambson recorded five outs in relief of Carl, the Goldeyes’ offence made the most of their final team at bat in the bottom of the eighth.  With a single, home run, and double already in tow, Pleffner led off and ripped a line drive to right-centre.  The regular season batting champion legged his way to third for a triple, completing the cycle in a championship-clinching game.  Darvill singled home Pleffner to make it 16-2, extending his postseason hitting streak to 12 games dating back to 2016.  Katz drove in the final runs of the season with a two-run home run to left.

 

Capellan took over in the top of the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning to close out the fourth championship in Goldeyes’ history.  Turgeon fielded a groundball from Brennen Salgado and threw to Pleffner for the last out.  Pleffner threw his glove high into the air and a joyous celebration followed.

 

Carl earned the win.  It was his fifth postseason victory in a Goldeyes’ uniform, establishing a new franchise record.

 

Nearly 8,000 Winnipeggers remained on hand to enjoy the celebration, which carried on for what seemed like an hour.  The players drenching each other in champagne, the presentation of the championship trophy and banner, and carrying the trophy around the stadium so that fans could touch it up close have all become lasting images of a picture perfect ending.

 

The Goldeyes are back-to-back American Association champions, and have now hoisted the trophy three times in the last six years.  As the franchise approaches its historic 25th season, Goldeyes’ fans can once again enjoy a happy winter knowing which club won the final game of the year.