Wisconsin came home on Thursday trailing 1-0 in their best-of-three Midwest League first round playoff series but two dominant pitching performances carried them on to the second round. Chad Pierce threw a complete game shutout Thursday night and David Goforth followed suit tonight, allowing just four hits and striking out a career high nine while pitching nine scoreless innings.
"Honestly, Chad did a heck of a job yesterday and it was funny, I was talking about it last night asking 'how am I going to back up that performance?' Complete game shutouts are very rare and I just came into the game trying to get quick outs, go as deep into the game as I could and give our team a chance to win," Goforth said.
Goforth retired 13 batters in a row and 18 out of 19 to finish the game, and did not allow a hit after the fourth inning. He was still hitting 98 on the radar gun in the ninth inning and said he was feeling stronger as the night went along.
"The first five innings I was getting in some bad counts, some fastball counts and honestly the only thing I had for the first four-five innings was my two seam fastball," Goforth said. "But towards the end of the game I was able to get my curveball over for strikes and later in the count I was able to throw my slider and they were swinging and missing at it so I got a few more strikeouts."
Goforth got a big boost from his defense in the first inning on a play Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said was "probably the play of the year." With two men on and none out Goforth got a groundout to short that Yadiel Rivera bobbled, but Carlos George was able to pick up the carom and turn a double play.
"We've had a bunch of unique plays but maybe everything was just going right for us there and that was the start of it because Yadi's pretty sure-handed but the ball kicks off him but fortunately he stays in front of it, kicks it right to George and George makes an unbelievably athletic play, the reaction to catch it barehanded and turn the double play," Erickson said. "It was fun to watch, no doubt about it."
Goforth also got some help from his offense in the fourth inning when left fielder Ben McMahan and first baseman Nick Ramirez hit back-to-back home runs. McMahan's blast to left was Wisconsin's first hit in the game. They won tonight despite scoring three runs on just four hits.
"That at bat I tried to lay off some pitches I swung at in the at bat before, get the ball up over the plate and it worked out, I got a good swing on it," McMahan said.
Wisconsin has no time to rest on their laurels, however, as they open their Division Championship series in Clinton tomorrow. The Lumberkings beat Beloit 4-1 in ten innings tonight to advance to the second round. Chad Thompson will be tomorrow night's starting pitcher, with Mark Williams following him to the mound when the team returns home on Sunday.
It remains to be seen, however, if catcher/DH Cameron Garfield will be able to play in those games. Garfield left tonight's game after taking a pitch off the back of his hand. X-rays on the injury came back negative, so he's day-to-day at this point.
"Of course he thinks he'll be ready to go, but we'll assess that tomorrow," Erickson said. "He's going to be tender, but if it effects his swing tomorrow then he won't play, if we can get him two days he'll definitely play that second game because we need his bat in the lineup if he's healthy."
Wisconsin has less than 24 hours to prepare to face Clinton tomorrow, but Erickson said that won't be an issue.
"I don't think you worry about Clinton," Erickson said. "You prepare your own team and if we do what we want to do, pound the strike zone and play good defense and have good ABs, then you don't worry about the opposition as much."
Meanwhile, McMahan said the last two days' pitching performances give the team some momentum to carry into the next round.
"The next guy can only feed off that," McMahan said. "Seeing two starters go back-to-back like that the next guy should get pumped up a little bit to go out there and do, if not as good the same kind of performance. So I'm looking forward to the next series and we're all excited to get out there."
The Timber Rattlers are now one of four teams remaining in the Midwest League playoffs. If they win their three game series with Clinton they'll face the Eastern Division champions in a five game set next week.
"Our team, we've got something special here," McMahan said. "Our pitching has been doing a great job, our hitters have been doing what we need to do at the plate to produce runs, we've got a good thing going coming into this next series and I feel pretty confident going up against those guys."
"We've come this far, we might as well go ahead and try to go even further and try to win the thing," Goforth said.
Just Another Day For Neda
Wisconsin catcher Rafael Neda is starting behind the plate again tonight less than 24 hours after catching Chad Pierce's season-extending complete game shutout last night. Tonight is the second day in a row where the Timber Rattlers need to win or go home, but Neda said he's not treating it differently from any other game.
"Not at all. It's just another game and another chance to go out there and win and help the team," Neda said. "Nothing changes. It's just another game."
Neda was also behind the plate when two Timber Rattlers pitchers combined on a no-hitter earlier this season. Yesterday Chad Pierce said he had to battle to get through his gem, but today Neda said Pierce did a good job of getting his defense involved.
"Not at all. It's just another game and another chance to go out there and win and help the team. Nothing changes. It's just another game."
By the time Pierce took the mound in the top of the second Wisconsin had already given him a 3-0 lead. Neda said having that advantage took some pressure off.
"We like scoring first. As a pitcher that really helps because you have that advantage on your side," Neda said. "It makes you throw strikes and just attack and make them swing the bats rather than trying to be nasty and trying to get strikeouts."
New Approach Paying Off For Ramirez
Wisconsin's first run scored last night on an RBI single from first baseman Nick Ramirez, who went 1-for-2 in the game with a pair of walks. Getting on base three times last night was the result of a recent change in approach for Ramirez, who only walked two times in the entire month of July.
"My mentality is when I go up there I want to hit and I want to hit. I want to make something happen and that's what got me in trouble," Ramirez said. "That's why my average is a lot lower than I'd like it to be because instead of taking my walks I'd swing at bad pitches to get a hit and I'd be swinging at pitches they're trying to get me out on. And that set me up for them to not throw me any strikes because they knew I'd swing at bad pitches. In the past month I've definitely shrunk my zone and looked for one pitch to hit that I could handle, and that's gotten me a lot more walks."
Ramirez drew just 15 walks combined in May, June and July but has drawn 22 since the calendar turned to August. He also leads Wisconsin with 16 home runs and 70 RBI on the season. This is the first full professional season for the Brewers' 2011 fourth round pick, and he said handling the length of a full campaign has been the biggest thing he's learned this year.
"It's a long season. Everyone goes through their slumps, just try not to dwell on one certain bad at bat or game because that can carry over to another game, which carries over to another game. So it's just a short term memory," Ramirez said.
This is also Ramirez's first experience with minor league playoffs. He said that while the crowds and atmosphere haven't changed, the importance of individual moments has.
"The crowds aren't bigger, everything is just amplified," Ramirez said. "So you know that one mistake could cost you the game and your season so there's a bigger emphasis on executing every pitch."
Win or lose tonight, Ramirez knows what he needs to work on going forward.
"Definitely making better contact, having better at bats, especially against left-handed pitching," Ramirez said. "This is the first year I've actually struggled with left-handed pitching. Also with defense, just being more reliable over there. I feel like I've gotten a lot better defensively. I just need to get better in every part of the game."