Flashback Friday: Gil Meche (1998 & 1999)

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | January 21, 2011 7:27 AM ET

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Gil Meche retired earlier this week.  Meche joined the Timber Rattlers late in the 1997 season and spent all of 1998 with the team.  He was Seattle's #1 pick (No. 22 overall) out of Scott (LA) High School in 1996.  It seems like a good idea to make week's Flashback Friday a look back at one of his finest moments in a Rattlers jersey and at his first taste of the majors.

Meche set the franchise single season strikeout record with 168 strikeouts in 1998 and he was a big part of an outstanding pitching staff for the playoff bound Rattlers that season.  Ryan Anderson and Joel Pineiro were also on the staff that set the still standing Midwest League team record for strikeouts in a season.

The Rattlers were facing the Rockford Cubbies in the first round of the playoffs in 1998.  After a heartbreaking waste of a gem by Anderson in Game One down in Rockford on September 8 - which will be next week's Flashback, Meche got the call to keep the Rattlers season alive in Game Two at Fox Cities Stadium on September 9.

Here is the story as written by Jim Oskola from the September 10, 1998 Appleton Post-Crescent.

Meche comes to Rattlers' rescue

Officially, there were no special promotions Wednesday night at the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers playoff game.

Unofficially, it was "turn back the clock" night for Rattlers starting pitcher Gil Meche.

Meche pitched seven strong innings, leading the Timber Rattlers to a 7-1 victory over the Rockford Cubbies at Fox Cities Stadium to even the Midwest League best-of-three playoff series at 1-1.

The deciding game of the series will be at 6pm today at Fox Cities Stadium.

Pitching the night after Ryan Anderson struck out 18 Cubbies, Meche struck out 10, walked three, and allowed three hits.

"We were facing who I believe is the best pitcher in this league," Cubbies manager Ruben Amaro said of Meche.  "His record doesn't show the ability that he has.  He's got a great mound presence, a great arm, and he mixes his pitches very well.  Meche always gives us problems."

Meche's performance was similar to the way he pitched during July when he allowed just 28 hits and 14 walks while striking out 52 in 40-2/3 innings.

Meche struck out eight over the first four innings, including all three Cubbies in the third inning.

"I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes and give us a chance to win the game." Meche said.  "After Ryan's performance Tuesday, there's a little competitiveness inside me and I wanted to see if I could do just as good as he did.

"I looked at him and said 'I might catch you.' I just tried to get ahead in the count."

The only inning in which Meche ran into serious trouble was the fifth.  The Cubbies got a walk and a single with one out.  Meche then three two balls to Felipe Jimenez, prompting a visit by Rattlers manager Gary Varsho.

"He threw two curve balls to Jimenez and they weren't even close to being strikes," Varsho said. "He was being too fine.  He was trying to nitpick a little bit instead of going after people.  I want him to dominate with his fastball just like Ryan did the night before."

Meche struck out Jimenez, walked Tony Schrager and then got Jaisen Randolph to ground out to end the inning.

As well as Meche pitched, the Rattlers would not have evened the series without some help from recent roster addition Larry Haynes, control problems by the Cubbies pitchers and a pair of errors.

Haynes got the Rattlers going with a solo home run off the scoreboard in the third inning, tying the game 1-1.

"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Haynes, who played in only five regular season games for the Rattlers, said.  "Everybody was telling me they were going to come after me because I'm new up here so they'd throw me a lot of fastballs.  So I've been sitting fastballs on my first couple of at-bats."

One out later, Ramon Valera doubled to left and advance to third on a fly ball by Mike Marchiano.

Juan Silvestre reached on an error on Eric Hinske, scoring Valera.  Greg Connors reached base when he was hit on the left elbow by a pitch from Cubbies pitcher Mike Delano.

Harvey Hargrove then drove an inside pitch into right-center field, scoring Silvestre.  When Cubbies center fielder Jaisen Randolph bobbled the ball, Connors scored.

Amaro said it was more than the physical errors that hurt his team.

"Mental errors by our pitching and catching," Amaro said.  "We know how to pitch most of the Rattlers players and unfortunately, when you don't have control of your pitches and you're pitching from behind, you're going to get hurt.

The Rattlers added two runs in the fifth on a single, three consecutive walks, and a double play.

A single, two walks, and a double play scored a run for the Rattlers in the seventh.

In tonight's game, the Rattlers will start Derek Bieniasz (2-1, 5.25ERA) while the Cubbies will send Will Ohman (1-1, 4.44ERA) to the mound.


                   AB   H    R    BI

Schrager, 2b       4    0    0    0
Randolph, cf       4    0    0    0
Hinske, 1b         4    0    1    0
Meadows, lf        2    1    1    0
Amrhein, 3b        3    0    0    1
Smith, ss          3    0    1    0
Santiago, ph       1    0    0    0
Abreu, ss          0    0    0    0
Salazar, dh        3    0    0    0
Lisanti, c         3    0    1    0
Jimenez, rf        4    0    0    0
Totals             31   1    4    1

                   AB   H    R    BI
Clark, 2b          5    0    1    0
Valera, ss         4    1    1    0
Marchiano, lf      5    1    2    0
Silvestre, dh      3    3    1    0
Connors, 1b        1    1    0    0
Hargrove, rf       2    0    2    2
Lopez, c           3    0    0    0
Martinez, 3b       4    0    0    0
Haynes, cf         4    1    2    1
Totals             31   7    9    4

                                         R    H    E
Rockford  010 000 000 - 1    4    2
Wisconsin 004 020 10x - 7    9    0

E - Hinske, Randolph. LOB - W 9, R 9. 2B - Valera, Hargrove, Hinske. 3B - Meadows. HR - Haynes. SB - Valera.

Rockford           IP   H    R    ER   BB   SO
Delano, L          4.0  6    6    3    2    5
Sullivan           3.0  2    1    1    5    2
Palma              1.0  1    0    0    0    0

Meche, W           7.0  3    1    1    3    10
Willis             0.2  1    0    0    2    0
Derenches          1.1  0    0    0    0    3

HBP - By Delano (Connors). WP - Delano. PB - Lopez. T - 2:34. A - 833.

Bonus Flashback: This is an excerpt from an article by Kirby Arnold, who is a writer for the Everett Herald.  It appeared in the Appleton Post-Crescent on September 8, 1999.


As Mo Vaughn dug in at the plate and Gil Meche did his best to stand tall on the mound, one thought came to mind.

Antelopes have a better chance against hungry lions than Meche did in his major league debut July 6 in Anaheim, Calif.

"It's a 3-2 count, there's a man on first and the guy up there can crush anything you throw over the plate," Meche recalled.

Vaughn hovered over the plate, ready for the fastball he was certain would follow, and then the 20-year-old on the mound passed his test of bravery by throwing a pitch that nobody expected.

A change-up. Low and away. For strike three.

"Throwing that pitch takes eigher guts or stupidity," Mariners pitching coach Stan Williams said. "And this kid is not stupid."


Even Meche is amazed he climbed so quickly.

"It seems like yesterday I was in Wisconsin," he said.  "I thought I'd be at Double-A this whole year, have a good season and then who knows what would happen next year.  But, I pitched well and they're giving me a chance."


"The steps he's made from the end of last year to now are historic," [Bryan] Price [, Mariners minor league pitching coordinator] said.  "I'm very surprised he's here now, considering where he was at the end of last year."

But Price isn't surprised that it's Meche, and not Ryan Anderson or Joel Pineiro, two other pitching stars of the '98 Timber Rattlers, who was the first to arrive in the majors.

"At this time last year, I'd have said Pineiro was going to be the guy," Price said.  "He was ahead of both Gil and Ryan.  But Gil has taken a significant step forward emotionally.  Physically, the talent always has been there."

Meche went 8-7 with a 3.44 ERA last year with the Timber Rattlers, relying mostly on the fastball that had carried him through his first two seasons in the minors.  He struck out 168 last year, more than any Mariners minor leaguer.

"I wasn't even comfortable getting A-ball hitters out," Meche said.  "I needed that one pitch to help my fastball."

He worked on the change-up in the offseason, then came to spring training this year with a more complete repertoire - he's also got a decent curve and slider, Price said - and the confidence that he could throw any pitch in any situation.  The difference was apparent.


Meche made one start during spring training and was knocked around, but Mariners manager Lou Piniella gave him some advice before sending him back to the minor league camp.

"I said, 'Son, go down there and throw 12-15 change-ups every game, and we';; see you later in the year,'" Piniella said.


As Piniella put it, "He's calm as a cucumber.  He's got a lot of poise and good stuff to go along with it."

And it took only one gutsy pitch, that change-up to Vaughn in Meche's big-league debut, to prove it.

"That's a great pitch for anybody, at any stage of their career," Williams said.  "There's no way Vaughn can be thinking change-up in that situation."

Meche got out of that inning without giving up a run.

More importantly, an organization realized that the kid with all the physical tools has what it takes upstairs, too.


The Rattlers would lose the next night to Rockford in Game Three by a score of 4-2. 

The Eric Hinske mentioned in the game story from 1998 is Menasha's own Eric Hinske, who would go on to be the AL Rookie of the Year in 2002 with Toronto.

Other players on the 1998 Timber Rattlers to make the major leagues: Jermaine Clark, Carlos Maldonado, Leslie Brea, Justin Kaye, Joel Pineiro, and Allan Simpson.

The 18 strikeout performance by Anderson in Game One of the first round series in 1998 will be the focus of next week's Flashback.  However, there are no quotes because the game was in Rockford and the account appears to be from whatever the PC could get from the game report that was sent to them...by FAX!

Past Flashbacks:

October 8: In fair territory (1994)

October 15: Fans flock to see Foxes (1987)

October 22: New Park (1995)

October 29: Logo Decision (1994)

November 5: Ed Sedar, Pitcher (1985)

November 12: Abarbanel no-hitter (1966)

November 19: McCauley no-hitter (1972)

November 26: Monroe no-hitter (1975)

December 3: Conner, Smith no-hitter (1990)

December 10: Pomp & Circumstance (1940)

December 17: Opening Day (1940)

January 7: Matt Erickson: Year One (1997)

January 14: Two Hits, Two Wins (1982)

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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