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Panners wait for sunset to win
July 15, 2001, Daily News-Miner

By RICHARD LARSON
Staff Writer

Only in Fairbanks, Alaska.

The umpires briefly suspended Saturday's baseball game between the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks and the Anchorage Glacier Pilots until the sun set, then allowed play to continue in the 14-inning game to resume without lights.

Shortly after the game resumed Panners playmaker Marc Tugwell
was plunked in the side by Pilot pitcher Tommy Caple with two outs and the bases loaded, bringing Wyn Spencer home from third with the winning run. The game ended at 11:25 p.m.

"That's a first," Goldpanners manager Chris Jones said. "But we've seen a lot of firsts up here this season."

The game was delayed for at least 15 minutes shortly after 11 p.m. with the sun setting in the northeast, glaring directly into the eyes of the Pilots first baseman. Looking from first to third, the third baseman was impossible to see, much less a thrown ball from that direction.

At first, it was announced the game was being suspended and the small crowd of fans at Growden Memorial Park boisterously let the umpires know what they thought about that call. Eventually an updated announcement came that the umpires were waiting for the angle of the sun to change.

"I understand why they did it. It was a dangerous situation," Jones said. "I was just afraid they were going to call the game and we would have to finish tomorrow."

The game was suspended with the Panners having runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the 14th. Pilots relief pitcher Danny Hodges had just been lifted from the game after throwing 5[1/3] scoreless innings.

Hodges was taken from the game with a one ball count on Bobby Cruz because of a muscle strain in his side. Since he left due to an injury, Caple, who had not been warming up, was given unlimited pitches from the mound to get ready.

The game was suspended while Caple was warming up.

"He was definitely injured there was no other reason to take him out," Jones said of Hodges leaving the game. "We were happy to have him out of there."

Before Saturday, Hodges had not allowed an earned run this season.

When play resumed, Caple walked Cruz then got Casey Long to hit into a fielder's choice. Tony Perez was thrown out at home and the bases remained loaded with two outs.

Tugwell stepped to the plate and took one ball from Caple then was hit in the side with the next pitch to end the game.

In previous extra-inning contests this season Tugwell has been involved in game-winning plays for the Panners by scoring on a wild pitch, driving in the winning-run on a bunt and driving in the tying and winning runs with a triple.

Tugwell has also scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a wild pitch.

"You need to have Tugwell on the field somehow," Jones said. "He always seems to be around when we need the big play."

The lights at Growden Park were working, but were not going to be turned on because Panners management was not sure they would be able to turn the lights off again. The lights were turned on for an Athletes in Action game earlier this season and were unable to be turned off until an electrition managed to shut them off at 8 a.m.

The Panners had a 15-inning game with the Kenai Peninsula Oilers halted after 13 innings and resumed the next day a week ago. The Panners have their annual Midnight Sun Game on June 21, starting at 10:30 p.m.. It is played in its entirety without lights on the longest day of the year.

With the sky clearing Saturday night it was not known if the game would've been called after 14 innings or allowed to continue until it was too dark.

The win brought the Panners (19-17 overall, 13-11 in the ABL) back to within three games of the first-place Pilots (19-12, 17-9).

"We needed this game. If not things would've looked really bleak," Jones said.

The Pilots and Panners complete their three-game series with a 1 p.m. game today. The Pilots won the first game of the series 14-3 on Friday.

"If we can get out of there tomorrow with a win we will have gained ground on them in the series," Jones said. "If not we will be in trouble."

July 15, 2001, Daily News-Miner