Clearly Lincoln Saltdogs starter Joe Bisenius showed how he has a short memory. After losing Game 1 of the American Association Division best-of-five series, a game he had been staked to a 4-0 lead, Bisenius rebounded to pitch what may be the best game of his professional career. The Lincoln right-hander came up with an absolutely dominant performance to handcuff the Winnipeg Goldeyes and send his team on to face the Wichita Wingnuts in the championship series.
Bisenius had been given the ball in Game 1, and after the Saltdogs scored four runs in the first inning, the right-hander was unable to hold the lead, giving up six runs and 11 hits in six innings of work before being removed. He took the loss in an outing where he could have put his team up 1-0 in the series.
Tonight he was staked to a lead again, this time a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Unlike the Game 1 outing, Bisenius came out firing on all cylinders, commanding the strike zone and leaving Goldeyes hitters shaking their heads with each trip the plate.
The Lincoln starter retired the first eight batters of the game, striking out four of the Winnipeg hitters. The Goldeyes finally got their first base runner when Ryan Pineda singled and Brock bond followed with a single to send Pineda to second. Bisenius showed no panic however, striking out Jake Blackwood on three pitches to end the threat.
His team responded to the clutch performance by their starter by getting on the board themselves in the bottom half of the inning. With one out, Chad Mozingo singled and moved to third on a double by Luis Nunez. Matt Forgatch hit the first offering from Winnipeg starter Chris Salamida for a sacrifice fly to score Mozingo, and Ian Gac followed that with a double to make the score 2-0. The two runs were all the Bisenius would need.
In the fourth he retired the side in order, and in the fifth returned to the hill to give up only a two-out double, while striking out his seventh batter of the game. The sixth looked like a carbon copy of the fifth, as he again struck out the first batter of the inning, gave up a two-out double and retired the side without any runs crossing the plate.
In the seventh the Goldeyes were able to get their first lead-off batter on base. Reggie Abercrombie singled to left field, and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Donnie Webb. Bisenius showed incredible composure, getting Josh Mazzola to pop to second, and Luis Alen to ground to second to end the inning. It was the first inning he had not struck out a batter, but he retired the side on just seven pitches, and showed no signs of wearing down.
In the eighth Bisenius gave up his first walk on the game, a one-out free pass to Brock Bond. Again, the righty showed no signs of cracking or concern, getting Blackwood to ground out on the first pitch and then striking out Tyler Kuhn on three pitches.
In the ninth inning many wondered if the team would turn to closer Marshall Schuler, but Bisenius had been so dominant that Lincoln manager Ken Oberkfell stuck with his starter, and was rewarded for doing so. Casey Haerther grounded out to the shortstop on the first pitch from Bisenius. Abercrombie then struck out on three straight pitches, but then Webb worked the count full before singling and keeping the Goldeyes chances alive. That brought the red-hot Josh Mazzola to the plate who had homered five times in the last 11 games. Mazzola was the ideal hitter to have up with a chance to tie the game. Bisenius’ first two pitches were called strikes putting Mazzola in the hole. The righty’s next pitch Mazzola flailed at with no success, striking out, ending the game and sending the Central Division Champions onto the American Association Championship versus the Wichita Wingnuts.
The Saltdogs showed some real moxie, battling back from a 2-1 deficit to take the series 3-2. Many will be questioning the strategy that Winnipeg selected to employ for the series. The Goldeyes had the better record between the two teams, giving them the option of either taking the first two games at home, or beginning on the road, but having the last three at home. They chose the first option, and were unable to take care of business in their park, opening the door for the Saltdogs. Lincoln took the opportunity and delivered.
For the Saltdogs, they have been in playoff mode for weeks, needing to make a big comeback in the last week to even quality for the playoffs, and then falling behind 2-1 before coming back to take the series. Lincoln is establishing themselves as the comeback kids, and will now battle the Wichita Wingnuts starting Wednesday night in Lincoln.
This night was a huge victory for the Saltdogs, and it was an even bigger win for Bisenius. He will likely only make one start in the championship series, but he showed that he is a difference maker when given the opportunity.
By Robert Pannier
Senior Baseball Editor
Member of the IBWAA