GRAND CHUTE, WI - The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers were cruising through five innings behind starting pitcher Taylor Williams against the Peoria Chiefs Thursday night at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. But the Chiefs sent twelve men to the plate and scored six runs off two relievers in the seventh inning to defeat the Rattlers 8-4 in the 2014 opener for both teams.
Williams was on immediately for the Rattlers. The right-hander out of Kent State University allowed one hit over five shutout innings and struck out seven to set a professional high for strikeouts in a game.
"Taylor came out pounding the zone with early count strikes and was able to put some folks away tonight," said manager Matt Erickson. "He was competitive, had good tempo, got us off the field, and gave us a great chance to win that game."
Wisconsin (0-1) grabbed the lead with an RBI triple by Angel Ortega in the bottom of the third inning. Rafael Neda singled with one out and scored when Ortega drove the ball over the head of Ronald Castillo in right field.
Williams pitched around an error in the top of the fifth inning to turn the 1-0 lead over to the bullpen.
Peoria (1-0) rallied against Tyler Alexander in the top of the sixth. Michael Schulze doubled to start the inning. A pair of one out walks loaded the bases. Castillo's sacrifice fly to foul territory in right was deep enough to score Schulze to tie the game
The Rattlers retook the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Ortega drew a walk to start the inning. Then, Omar Garcia singled to right on a hit-and-run to put runners at the corners. The hit was Garcia's third of the night.
"He had a really good spring training," Erickson said of Ortega. "In the last week he had hard time making outs and he's carried that over to tonight."
Chris McFarland got Ortega home from third base by grounding into a 4-3 double play to put the Rattlers up 2-1. But, the lead didn't last long.
Alexander got the first out of the top of the seventh, but loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Wisconsin called on Chris Razo to get out of the jam.
CJ McElroy Jr. greeted Razo with a two-run single. Mason Katz was next and he doubled down the third base line to score two more runs and the Chiefs were up 5-2. Razo walked the next batter. Then, Castillo and Kenny Peoples-Walls followed with RBI singles to pad Peoria's lead out to 7-2.
Michael Ratterree tripled to start the Wisconsin seventh. Taylor Brennan drove in Ratterree with a sacrifice fly.
The Chiefs tacked on another run in the top of the eighth on a double by Katz to make the score 8-3.
The final fun of the game came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Clint Coulter launched a home run deep to left to give the remaining opening night crowd a thrill on a chilly Wisconsin evening.
"You have to be a man to hit the ball out of the ballpark today," Erickson said. "He spent a lot of time in spring training working with Jeremy Reed and Chuckie Caufield on trying to get a better tempo and not swing so hard. He's a guy that doesn't have to create any more power than what his natural swing is. If we can find a way for him to find the barrel more often, you're going to see a lot more balls hit a long way like that."
Game two of the series is set for Friday night. Barrett Astin is the scheduled starting pitcher for the Timber Rattlers. Silfredo Garcia is set to start for the Chiefs. Game time is 6:35pm.
Friday night is a North Shore Bank Family Night with Y100 featuring a special postgame fireworks display. Children 12 receive a voucher that may be redeemed for a free hotdog and soda. Children 14 and under may run the bases courtesy of Molina Healthcare after the fireworks.
Tomorrow is also the first Throwback Game of the 2014 season sponsored by Appvion. Timber Rattlers players and coaches will wear jerseys based on those worn by the 1995 Timber Rattlers and ticket prices are $5 for a box seat, $4 for a reserved seat, and $3 for grass seats.
If you can't make it out to the game, tune into to the broadcast on AM1280, WNAM starting with the Miller Lite Pregame Show at 6:15pm. Friday's game is available on IHeartRadio and MiLB.TV, too.
Clint Coulter (1st, 0 on in 9th inning off Chris Perry, 2 out)
WP: Arturo Reyes (1-0)
LP: Tyler Alexander (0-1)