If you ask a member of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers how they're feeling tonight, they might admit they're tired. But they'd probably also tell you that walking off with a 3-2 win to salvage a doubleheader split against the Burlington Bees made them feel a little better.
Between 5:05 pm on Wednesday and 5:37 pm today the Timber Rattlers and Bees played four games: An evening doubleheader Wednesday night and a pair of day games this afternoon. The two teams split the four games, with Burlington picking up a 6-4 win in the first game today and Wisconsin avenging the loss with a 3-2 walkoff win in the second contest.
One of the Timber Rattlers who played all 31 innings over two days (including extra innings in the first game on Wednesday) was third baseman Taylor Brennan, and he was a big part of the reason Wisconsin picked up their two wins. He went 4-for-8 with three extra base hits on Wednesday, including a walkoff single in the Timber Rattlers victory. He had two more hits today, including a triple, and the second hit was also a walkoff single.
After the game Brennan noted that back-to-back doubleheaders were something he got used to during his junior college days, so playing this often wasn't unusual for him.
"I'm feeling good right now, I'll probably be tired tonight after I shower and stuff. I'll be ready to go to sleep, get some rest and be ready tomorrow to go again," Brennan said.
"He's a guy that we need to play like he's playing the next couple of days if we're going to be successful," Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said. "He's playing with some confidence, not only with his bat, but it seemed to carry over to his defense as well. He made some great plays yesterday in the doubleheader, swung the bat and today he also helped us in the middle of the lineup. But we need his bat if we're going to be a contending club."
Today was also a big day for Erickson: The win was his 216th as manager of the Timber Rattlers, setting a new Wisconsin franchise record. He passed former MLB outfielder Gary Thurman, who managed Wisconsin from 2000-02 during their time as a Mariners affiliate.
"I feel fortunate to be in the situation that I'm in to get to do this in my hometown and for the Brewers, a team I grew up watching and got to play for. It's a neat experience. Humbling," Erickson said.
Erickson was in a position to collect that record-breaking win due to a solid performance from pitchers Preston Gainey and Harvey Martin in the second game. Gainey allowed a two-run home run in the third inning of the second game, but otherwise the two pitchers kept the Bees off the board for seven innings and gave Wisconsin a chance to come back.
"Gainey, coming off the DL, hadn't pitched in a while and maybe was a little bit too strong," Erickson said. "He really struggled winning strike one and was falling behind, but getting out of it. He had the two-run home run but kept us close enough."
The Timber Rattlers needed a great pitching performance to stay in the game after Burlington starter Alfonso Alcantara held them scoreless for five innings. Alcantara also pitched against Wisconsin in his last outing, and has thrown nine consecutive scoreless innings when facing them. Erickson said it's fair to say he's had the Timber Rattlers' number.
"He's got a nice arm, a live arm, but we didn't have a lot of good swings off him today. Fortunately for us he hit a pitch count or whatever it was and we were able to get to the pen," Erickson said.
Wisconsin got three runs in the final two innings of the second game against the Bees bullpen. Catcher Clint Coulter hit a solo home run to lead off the sixth, and second baseman Chris McFarland drove in the tying run with a sac fly later in the inning.
"That's one thing we've been working on with a team: Runner on third, less than two outs, making sure we get that run in," McFarland said. "So I was just trying to put a good swing on it, to make sure I got the run in."
McFarland broke out of an 0-for-19 slump with a nice day today, collecting three hits in the first game and driving in the tying run in the second. He said he didn't change his routine in an effort to overcome his struggles, and it felt good to finally break through.
"It's something me and (hitting coach) Chuck (Caufield) talked about, you've just gotta stay positive even though you're doing bad, keep your head up and keep swinging," McFarland said.
With the split today Wisconsin moves to 12-14 on the season. They've fallen six games back of Kane County in the Midwest League's West Division, and Erickson said the way they prepare for games will be key if they're going to get back in the race.
"I like the way our preparation is. If we continue our preparation the way we have been and get some weather where we can get on the field day in, day out, I think that will make us a little more consistent on the field in competition," Erickson said. "If we keep getting wins like this, we'll hopefully get a little confidence with our young players and maybe we can get on a run."
For now, however, his team needs some rest before their night game with Clinton tomorrow.
"I'm kind of tired. I'm trying to see if I can make up this (scheduled weight) lift tomorrow," McFarland said. "It's a grind, but I'm used it to because I was here last year preparing every day. It's just a part of getting your sleep and eating right to be able to compete. The other team, they're doing it too. So it's mental as well, just staying focused."
Erickson could be forgiven if he was sick of baseball after managing 31 innings in two days, but he said that's not the case.
"Absolutely not. I'm ready for tomorrow right now," Erickson said.