The second half of the Midwest League season has not been kind to this point to either Wisconsin or Kane County, who were both 1-7 entering play Saturday, but the Timber Rattlers overcame adversity to pick up a 10-9 win in front of over 4000 fans at Fox Cities Stadium.
Second baseman Chris McFarland had the big hit in the game, a game-tying double in the eleventh, and scored the winning run on Orlando Arcia's fielder's choice that led to a walkoff error. McFarland also drew a walk and scored a run as Wisconsin rallied from two runs down in the tenth, and finished the night 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
"I was just thinking first pitch fastball, I'm attacking. And that's what I got, and I squeezed it through down the line," McFarland said about his eleventh inning double.
"He's a young man that's been up and down, real inconsistent but he's had some big games for us," Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said. "He gets real emotional at times and kind of wears it on his sleeves but we've talked at times about controlling emotions and continuing to compete."
McFarland's three times on base tonight improved his batting line to .293/.333/.415 in June. Erickson said his confidence has improved as the season has gone along.
"I actually told him today before the game I like the way his body language is," Erickson said. "He looks like he's a little more confident than he was a month, a month and a half ago. It was good to see him get good at bats today. He took a good batting practice today, I liked the way he went about his preparation and ground balls. So a lot of times if your preparation is good your games are good, and hopefully he can continue to get that kind of feeling on a daily basis."
McFarland, in turn, praised Erickson, his coaching staff and teammates for keeping the team facing the right direction.
"We have great coaches. Matty keeps us focused, all of them do," McFarland said. "We've got great teammates, we pick each other up even if we make a mistake or errors. So that helps a lot. We've got great chemistry."
Hours earlier, the Timber Rattlers got a strong start from 2012 draft pick Preston Gainey. He entered the game with an ERA well over six but pitched 6.1 innings tonight and allowed three runs on nine hits, walking one and striking out one. He needed just 78 pitches to record 19 outs.
"In the first couple of innings I kind of struggled getting ahead a bit and as the game went along I started getting ahead a lot more with my fastball," Gainey said. "Then my slider started working a little bit and I was able to put some guys away and get some early count outs. So that was key."
"He's attacking the zone with his fastball, and he's got a little juice on his fastball," Erickson said. "I'm really trying to get one of his secondary pitches to become more of a factor for him to get hitters off his fastball, but he rarely beats himself. They got a bunch of hits early, but not much to show for it because he throws strikes. And when you don't beat yourself you give yourself a chance, give your defense a chance to make plays for you. If he can continue to attack the zone and be a little more effective with his secondary pitches he's going to get deep into ballgames."
The extra innings in tonight's game gave Gainey a chance to go back to the clubhouse, get his post-outing workout in, and still be back in the dugout in time to celebrate the walkoff.
"After the outing's over we come back up here. All the pitchers, as soon as they get done throwing they come back upstairs and we have a workout regimen," Gainey said. "Typically it's either running or riding the bike. Tonight I had kettlebell swings, and then some stretches and foam rolling. And I got back downstairs for the end of the game, so I was pretty excited."
Gainey lost his chance for his fourth win of the season when Kane County rallied for three runs to tie the game in the ninth inning, but said he can't fault his fellow pitchers for occasionally having a rough day.
"We fought back as a team and we worked well together," Gainey said. "You can't take anything away from the relievers coming in because they'll get you out of jams too. It happens. Bad outings will happen and as you saw tonight, we got a win and we worked together as a team to pick each other up. That's kind of the way it goes."
Both teams struggled at times tonight and showed some of the reasons they're a combined 3-15 in the second half of the Midwest League season, but for Wisconsin a win is still a win.
"Those are two teams that are struggling to get a win, and it kind of looked like that for a while. It looked like two teams finding a way to lose for a while," Erickson said. "But we did enough to get a W and it feels good."
While Wisconsin has been struggling, 19-year-old outfielder Tyrone Taylor has been one of the bright spots on this team. His tenth inning single tied the game at eight and gave him a hit in 13 consecutive games.
"Tyrone specifically, his progression since the beginning of the year has been a lot of fun to watch," Erickson said. "He's still 19 years old, he was in high school last year. To do what he's doing right now in the Midwest League is pretty impressive, that's a pretty big jump from high school baseball. But he's a five tool guy. He runs a little bit, his arm continues to improve, his accuracy is improving, he's getting better jumps in the outfield and he already has good speed."
Tonight was only Taylor's 89th professsional game, but he's already a career .324/.376/.504 hitter in the minors before his 20th birthday. His strong play has generated a fair amount of attention, and Erickson said he deserves it.
"He's been our most consistent hitter in the middle of the lineup and he's right where he needs to be in our lineup right now," Erickson said. "I agree with the attention he's getting, I think he deserves every bit of it. His character matches his ability and he comes in here and works his tail off every day. So he's definitely a player we're excited about in the organization."
While it took three hours and 22 minutes and eleven innings to get a W tonight, Erickson told his team he was proud of them for continuing to battle back.
"We told them it was impressive to see how we came back and picked each other up," Erickson said. "We had a nice lead going into the ninth and they battled to get some runs, then we came right back to tie it up for the first time, then we gave up more and then we came back to tie it up, then made it happen in the eleventh. So the fact that we kept battling and found a way to win that game was fun to see."
Even if it did push tonight's scheduled fireworks back a little bit, Gainey said a walkoff win is more fun.
"A lot more fun," Gainey said.
Harvey Martin's first day
Tonight could have been the Midwest League debut of the first Timber Rattler from the 2013 draft class, as pitcher Harvey Martin was called up from Helena earlier today. Martin left Montana early this morning, arrived in Appleton at 2:30 this afternoon and was been told he could pitch in relief in this game.
"Obviously I'm just getting my feet wet in here today, trying to get warmed up right away," Martin said. "My arm feels good, so I'm assuming I'll probably be throwing out of the pen soon."
The Brewers selected 40 players in the 2013 draft, but the first player to reach Wisconsin is an undrafted free agent. Martin pitched for Division 2 Minnesota State in college this season before signing with the Brewers and appearing in a pair of games with Helena.
"It's been unreal. It has been a whirlwind," Martin said. "I was talking my mom today and was like, 'I don't know if I'm ever going to be comfortable, I'm always all over the place.' I flew out of Michigan to Helena, I was there for two weeks and found out late last night that I'd be flying out here, got up at four in the morning, and flew out here this morning. It was pretty cool. It's been awesome so far."
Despite the short night's sleep, Martin said he's ready to pitch in if the team needs him.
"It doesn't really matter. It's baseball," Martin said. "I'm excited to be here, it's more excitement for me than nerves. I'm sure I'll be a little nervous once I get out there in the start but like I said, that's the excitement part of it."
Before going to Minnesota State, Martin attended Central Michigan for four years. He pitched as a reliever during his time in Division 1 before working as a starter on a team that nearly won back-to-back Division 2 national championships.
"It was a really good team and it was good to be a part of a winning program," Martin said. "You see what it takes to win and I think that helps out anybody."
On Mike Garza and trusting the process
2012 20th round pick Mike Garza recently celebrated the first anniversary of his professional debut, and already has 15 extra base hits for Wisconsin in 2013. He said the biggest thing he's learned in his first year is not to pay so much attention to his numbers.
"There's a lot more to be said in the process than in the results," Garza said. "You come in day-in and day-out, it's a long season and you come in prepared to get your work done and the results will take care of themselves."
Garza has bounced back and forth between third and first base during his time with Wisconsin, but says he'll play anywhere to get into the lineup.
"I just do whatever my coaches ask me to do and however I can help the team win, that's what I'm willing to do," Garza said. "Up or down in the order, any defensive position, I feel like I can handle all nine positions and if that's what I need to do, that's what I'll try to do."
Through 37 games Garza was hitting .295/.336/.473. He's cooled off a bit since then, but said he's paying more attention to the process than his numbers.
"I'm trying to develop a little more of a routine. Last year I was a little more focused on results," Garza said. "Sometimes that gets you into trouble, you start to press and eventually start to struggle. But this year I'm trying to relax and have fun and put in the work I need to put in to get the job done on the field."
Garza went 2-for-4 Saturday night with a sac bunt and two runs scored.
Armold adjusting to life in the bullpen
Wisconsin only has one win the second half, but reliever Jono Armold picked it up in their extra inning victory on Thursday. Armold pitched two innings and allowed a single hit for the win. He said the uncertainty of coming into an extra inning game and not knowing how long it would last was "kinda interesting."
"It kinda brings me back to my college days when I was a starter and you don't know how long it's going to last, but you just try to go out there and put up zeroes and keep the team in the ballgame," Armold said.
Armold has appeared in 12 games in relief for the Timber Rattlers this season and has a 1.93 ERA. He was a starting pitcher in college before the Brewers selected him in the 30th round of the 2012 draft.
"It took a little getting used to last year, but now you get in more of a routine, you get used to throwing every single day, being hot every single day and having a chance to go in at any point," Armold said. "I'm kind of starting to prefer it a little but more. It's interesting to get a little more hyped up for your outings."
Armold said he throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, cut fastball and curveball, and is working on a changeup.
"That's been a work in progress, but it's getting better," Armold said.