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Wisconsin wins Midwest League title

Ramirez delivers go-ahead hit as Rattlers win their first crown
September 16, 2012
When Lee Orr struck out to seal Class A Wisconsin's first Midwest League championship, Milwaukee prospect Nick Ramirez had only one thing on his mind: Don't get caught at the bottom of the dogpile.

Luckily for the first baseman, his teammates stayed on their feet, and he was able to celebrate standing up with high-fives, hugs and plenty of sparkling cider showers.

Ramirez broke a tie with a seventh-inning two-RBI double Sunday to help the Timber Rattlers beat the Fort Wayne TinCaps, 4-2, in Game 4 of the circuit's best-of-5 Championship Series.

"This is awesome, it's a great feeling," Ramirez said. "This is my first championship in pro baseball. This is one of the best feelings of my career. There's nothing higher than this at this level; this is the World Series for us.

"I tried to push [6-foot-5 pitcher] Brent Suter down, but he's a big guy. It wasn't going to happen. I was thinking to myself, 'Don't be at the bottom of the dogpile.'"

The victory gives the Timber Rattlers their first league championship in the 18-year history of the club. The last time the team won a championship -- in 1984 -- the team was a White Sox affiliate known as the Appleton Foxes.

Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson knows better than anyone the importance of the title to the organization and the town of Appleton, Wisc.

"I was born and raised in Appleton, and I'm a member of the community," said Erickson, who was selected in the seventh round of the 1997 Draft. "I played my West High School games at the old park, Goodland Field, and I watched the Appleton Foxes growing up.

"I played in the Midwest League in '98 with Kane County when I was a member of the Florida Marlins organization, and I watched the transition from the Foxes to the Timber Rattlers and all the excitement that brought to the valley."

Leadoff hitter Brandon Macias doubled to center field to start the game, and Chadwin Stang drove him in with a single to put the Timber Rattlers on the board.

Max Walla doubled the lead with a two-out homer to right field in the second, but an RBI double by Yeison Asencio and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Travis Whitmore tied the game in the third.

That was the way the game stayed until the seventh when 23-year-old Ramirez, selected by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft out of Cal State-Fullerton, delivered the decisive blow.

With runners on the corners and one out, Ramirez ripped a two-RBI double to right field to give the Timber Rattlers the lead for good.

Ramirez, who led the team in homers (16), RBIs (70) and extra-base hits (44), knew he would get a chance to give his team another lead in the seventh.

"They brought in a lefty [Brandon Alger] and I figured I would see a couple curveballs because there were guys at first and third and they wanted me to hit into a double play," said Ramirez, who drove in 10 runs during nine postseason games, including four in the Finals.

"He threw a first-pitch fastball, then a pretty good slider for a strike that I thought was a ball," Ramirez recalled.

"He threw a fastball that I fouled off, and since he changed my eye level, I thought he would probably come with something off-speed. He came with a curveball and I got enough of the barrel on it."

The runs made a winner of starter Chad Thompson (2-0), who allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out three batters over six innings. Suter fanned three batters over three hitless innings of relief to seal the championship.

"It feels unbelievable. I'm so happy for the players who put in all the hard work and preparation to get this done," Erickson said. "I want them to know how appreciative I am of the hard work they put in. It's proof hard work can bring results.

"This is something that nobody can take away. It will stay with them their whole lives. I told them at no point in my career was I as close with my teammates than I was in my first full season of A-ball. Hopefully, they will have some good memories of the 2012 season."

Wisconsin booked its slot in the playoffs after winning the Western Division first-half title. The team went 44-25 over the first half, winning the division by 5 1/2 games over the Beloit Snappers.

It marked the fourth time the team won a division title. It won the now-defunct Central Division in 1996 and 1999 and claimed the Western Division in 2005.

The Timber Rattlers lost the first game of its opening-round against Burlington, 4-0, but won the next two games to get to the semifinals, where they swept Clinton.

Wisconsin and Fort Wayne split the first two games of the Championship Series, before the Timber Rattlers won Game 3 on Saturday, 10-8, and sealed the title at Parkview Field.

"No one gives up. We fought all throughout the year," Ramirez said. "There was no giving up. I'll remember the whole experience and the rush of being champions and celebrating on the field."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to