When the Fort Wayne team bus pulled away from Fox Cities Stadium after the TinCaps' loss in Game 1 of the Midwest League Finals Wednesday night, the players didn't know who the starting pitcher would be for Game 2 the following afternoon.
Colin Rea was sitting in the back of the bus when he saw pitching coach Willie Blair fast approaching.
"I didn't know what he was gong to say because it's been up in air with our starters," Rea said. "But I was excited."
Making good on his coach's faith, Rea completed a career-high seven strong innings as his TinCaps topped the host Timber Rattlers, 5-1, on Thursday afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-5 set.
"It helps us get back on track going to Fort Wayne," the site of Games 3 through 5, said Rea. "I think we have a good shot of pulling this off. We're very excited with the way we have been playing, attacking their hitters, getting key hits in key situations, playing well all around."
Utilizing his sinking two-seam fastball, plus a strong changeup and curveball, Rea (2-0) retired the side in order in four of his seven frames. He gave up just one run on two hits, including first baseman Nick Ramirez's solo homer in the fourth.
"It was a 2-2 count and the pitch before that wasa curve. My catcher wanted me to throw a changeup, but I shook him off to a fastball and left it over plate, and [Ramirez] did the rest," said Rea, who threw 53 of his 84 pitches for strikes and issued two walks. "I wanted to freeze him up on the inside but didn't get it in far enough."
The 22-year-old right-hander's postseason ERA (0.90) offers a stark contrast to his season mark (4.11). Rea helped punch Fort Wayne's ticket to the Finals with three scoreless innings of relief two days earlier in Lake County.
"In the regular season, I fell behind hitters, got into a lot of 2-1 and 3-1 counts," said Rea, who bounced between the rotation (19 starts) and bullpen (12 appearances) this season, his second as a pro. Entering the playoffs, "I talked to Willie, and he told me I need to be aggressive and things will work out for me."
Rea had the support of his lineup. TinCaps first baseman Lee Orr went yard in the second, and his teammates broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth on back-to-back doubles from outfielder Kyle Gaedele and second baseman Tyler Stubblefield, plus shortstop Jace Peterson's RBI sacrifice fly.
"Our hitters do what they do, and that made it easier for me," Rea said.
Two insurance runs scored in the ninth. Facing Wisconsin reliever Kevin Shackelford, catcher Austin Hedges tripled then jogged home on third baseman Duanel Jones' homer over the left-field fence.
Starter Chad Pierce (1-1) was charged with the first three runs on four hits over seven innings. He struck out three.
Rea's relievers, right-hander Johnny Barbato and Matt Stites, pitched perfect eighth and ninth frames to close out the win.
The series moves to Fort Wayne, where the teams will play Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary). The TinCaps are seeking their second league title in four seasons, while the Timber Rattlers haven't won it all since 1984, when they were still known as the Appleton Foxes.