The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are the last Brewer minor league affiliate standing and will play on for at least one more day after shutting out Burlington 4-0 to even their best-of-three Midwest League first round playoff series at one game apiece.
The star of tonight's game was Wisconsin native Chad Pierce, who allowed just three hits while pitching a complete game shutout, the first nine inning complete game thrown by a Timber Rattler this season.
"I kept on going, taking the ball for the next inning. I didn't have my best stuff but that doesn't really matter," Pierce said. "Playoff time you're just trying to compete, go out there, we put up four runs early and you just want to keep putting up zeroes. That's what a good team does, score early and hold them."
Despite the dominant performance, Pierce classified tonight's game as "a battle."
"I really didn't have anything going, I'd get two outs quick and then fall behind with two outs," Pierce said. "Honestly it was just fastball all game. Curveball, changeup, I couldn't really get that going. I just battled, got some easy outs and then I got behind some guys and luckily they'd mishit it."
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said tonight's victory gave his team momentum heading into tomorrow's winner-take-all third game.
"We played well in Burlington that last series, swept them and we built some momentum there," Erickson said. "And that was the goal, to build some momentum because we didn't play well leading into that series. And then yesterday they come out and their starter does exactly what Pierce did to them tonight. And that's what we needed. Now immediately all the momentum's back on our side. It's up to (Friday's starter David) Goforth to set the tone tomorrow and hopefully we can continue to play solid defense and get some timely hitting."
Both games in this series have been decided by shutouts, with Wisconsin getting two-hit on Wednesday and throwing a three-hitter on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Timber Rattlers took an early lead tonight with three runs on four hits in the first inning and tacked on another in the second. Designated hitter Cameron Garfield had one of the big hits in the first, a double that drove home Nick Ramirez with the game's second run.
"In the playoffs, whoever gets the momentum first it really carries throughout the game," Garfield said. "We got some huge knocks, especially with two outs. When you've got Pierce on the mound throwing every pitch he has for strikes, it really helps the team."
In the first few innings Wisconsin was able to gain some ground on the basepaths, advancing on four wild pitches and a passed ball by Burlington starter A.J. Cole. Cole was rated as the #57 prospect in all of baseball before the season by Baseball America, but lasted just four innings tonight.
"Those (wild pitches) were dirtball reads and that's something we continue to preach all throughout the year, making sure in our secondary leads we're looking at ball flight, ball in the dirt, if it kicks away we're looking to advance and I think we had three of those in the first two innings tonight. All three of those guys scored, actually, " Erickson said.
The series continues tomorrow night at Time Warner Cable Field, and Erickson said it meant a lot to his team to play such an important game there.
"After the game yesterday obviously we didn't feel real good in the dugout and I said 'wait a minute, we're going back home. No time to pout. You gotta move on. Next pitch, next day,'" Erickson said. "I think we've won more games than anybody in the division at home. Obviously we've won two in a row before, and hopefully we can pull that off tomorrow."
1,756 fans paid to witness tonight's game, one of the largest crowds to attend a Midwest League playoff game this season.
"Great crowd. Not one of the biggest crowds, but we gave them something to get excited about early and then they got a chance to get something to drink, take a nap and then they got excited there at the end," Erickson said. "But being from the community and seeing that kind of support in a playoff game here was nice and I know our players are talking about it right now. It's a good feeling."
We'll be back here tomorrow night to cover game three of the series with David Goforth on the mound for Wisconsin. First pitch is scheduled for 6:35.