If the old adage that "momentum is the next day's starting pitcher" is true, then the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have to feel pretty good about themselves after their fourth consecutive solid outing from a starting pitcher led them to a 4-2 win and a series sweep over Clinton in the Midwest League Western Division Finals.
Timber Rattlers starting pitchers have allowed just three runs (two earned) in their last four games and tonight it was Mark Williams' turn to have a big night. He allowed two runs (one unearned) in the first before settling down to pitch eight innings, allowing the aforementioned two runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
"I had mechanical problems early on, leaving the ball up a little bit but figured it out and (catcher Rafael) Neda did a heck of a job working with me all night, making sure I was finishing towards him," Williams said. "And everything was really working. This was the best my slider's been all year, my change-up was good, sinker was good. I had a good night overall."
Williams said he tried to stay in the game to go for Wisconsin's third complete game of the postseason, but to no avail.
"The funny thing about that was I saw Manzo (Santo Manzanillo, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save) warming up when I was coming off the mound and Chavy (pitching coach Dave Chavarria) started to walk towards me when I came into the dugout and I walked away from him, cleaned my cleats and stayed at the end of the dugout," Williams said. "And he went back up to the net so I thought maybe I'd won him over to try to go back out for the ninth. Then I went and sat down and he's like 'you're at 103 pitches, so we're going to shut you down.' And Manzo did an outstanding job."
Williams said that Wisconsin's recent run of success makes it easier for the starting pitchers, as they can follow a pattern set by the previous night's starter.
"I tried to duplicate what Chad Thompson was doing last night and it worked for me," Williams said. Thompson allowed a run and struck out ten in six innings against Clinton in Game 1 of the series Saturday night.
Williams' early struggles were negated tonight when first baseman Nick Ramirez hit a two run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the first. Ramirez had two hits tonight and has been on base eleven times in five games this postseason.
"It's definitely a fun experience," Ramirez said. "We kind of hit a rough patch at the end of the season, but it's nice to come back and end it quick so we get an extra off day and see who we play."
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson credited his team for turning things around and getting hot at the right time.
"They've definitely stepped up," Erickson said. "We weren't playing very well about two weeks ago. And we had a rainout in Burlington and we had a little team meeting and everyone got to participate a little bit in that and basically just went over some of the things that we did well earlier in the year. "
Wisconsin now opens a five game series for the Midwest League championship at home on Wednesday against either Lake County or Fort Wayne. Jacob Barnes is scheduled to start the first game Wednesday night, with Chad Pierce following him to the mound in the second game Thursday afternoon. Having a couple of days off will give the players an opportunity to reflect on how far they've come.
"It feels amazing. We worked hard for this all year," Williams said. "With guys moving up and down it's hard to put a season like this together. We struggled in the second half but you put it together at the right time. 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,' my old college coach used to tell me that and it really is amazing the way these guys came together especially at the end of the season when we were struggling, to keep it together, come out and throw well."
With that said, the off day isn't ideal for everyone.
"When you're feeling good you don't really want an off day," Ramirez said. "But that's how it's set up and I'm pretty sure this team can overcome that so I'm not really worried about it."
Erickson sees the break a little differently.
"Tomorrow we're gonna take the day off for sure, I don't give a (expletive) about momentum," Erickson said. "But they've earned the opportunity to get a rest, to rest their bodies. And then Tuesday we'll have a light workout here, mid-morning. If any of them are still banged up a little bit they'll get a chance to see Pax (trainer Jeff Paxson). And then Wednesday night we get a chance to create some new momentum."
Follow the jump for stories from earlier today on this winter's pending ballpark renovation project and Saturday's winning pitcher Chad Thompson.
Construction On Hold
While Wisconsin makes a run at a Midwest League championship, their plans to renovate Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium are on hold. The team has planned a $5+ million construction project for this winter to add a club level behind home plate, improve the clubhouses and office facilities. It will be the most significant improvements made to the facility since it opened in 1995.
Work on the project is expected to start immediately after the season wraps up, but Wisconsin's playoff run has delayed those plans. Timber Rattlers president Rob Zerjav says the holdup won't impact their ability to have the ballpark ready to reopen next spring.
"We knew we were in the playoffs after the first half and worked with Boldt Construction, we knew this was a possibility," Zerjav said. "So really the construction wasn't going to start until the week of the 17th or the week of the 24th. It still looks like we're on those plans, with us hopefully advancing and getting to the championship it'll probably push it to the 24th."
One concession stand has already been closed for the season, but aside from that the only work that can be done for now is in the ballpark's front office.
"It's been very interesting. We made a big step the other day getting all of our desks out, everyone's been working on tables," Zerjav said. "It's a very bare bones office right now, just tables and computers."
Areas of the ballpark the fans see, however, have not been affected.
"Really it's been tough because we're still going and the stadium is still being used so you can't just start tearing down the Wall of Fame or tearing down the team store because people are going to see it and people are going to want to buy stuff," Zerjav said.
"We'll deal with it. It's been interesting. Hopefully we don't ever have to do it again, but we're making the best of it," Zerjav said.
Thompson Has Another Big Night In Clinton
Wisconsin took a 1-0 lead in the series Saturday night behind a big outing from starting pitcher Chad Thompson, who set a new professional best by striking out ten batters while allowing one run over six innings in the Timber Rattlers' 9-1 win.
Thompson was also in Clinton for his Midwest League debut on May 4, when he and tonight's starter Mark Williams combined to pitch a no-hitter. Despite the fact that his best games of the season took place there, Thompson said there's nothing special for him about pitching in Clinton.
"No, I just had my stuff those two games, and especially with the playoff atmosphere I had a little more adrenaline going for the end of the year," Thompson said.
Thompson, a 27th round pick in the 2011 draft, said his slider was the key Friday night.
"My slider was working for a first pitch strike, and I was able to locate my fastball to my glove side," Thompson said.
Saturday night's win was big, but Thompson said if he had to choose between the two he'd keep the combined no-hitter from earlier.
"It's a little bigger accomplishment," Thompson said.
Thompson posted a 4.31 ERA over 18 starts this season in his first full professional campaign.