It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. However, it was a win and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 6-4 victory over the Cedar Rapids Kernels Sunday afternoon at Perfect Game Field earned Wisconsin a split in the six-game series and pulled them back to within a game of the division leading Kernels.
The Timber Rattlers (28-17) scored a run in the first inning but missed out on a much bigger inning against Kernels starting pitcher Sean Mooney. Tyler Black singled to start the game. Mooney retired the next batter. Then, walked the next three batters in a row. A walk to Wes Clarke with the bases loaded allowed Black to cross the plate for a 1-0 lead. Mooney struck out the next two batters to leave three Rattlers on base.
In the second, Wisconsin made something out of nothing with two outs and nobody on base. Black and Carlos Rodríguez hit back-to-back solo homers off Mooney and the Rattlers were up 3-0.
Cedar Rapids (29-16) put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the second inning with a single and a hit batsman. They had runners at the corners with two outs and Wisconsin starter Ryne Moore looked like he would get out of the inning. However, he made an errant pickoff throw to first base and that allowed the runner from third to score the first run of the game for the Kernels.
Another throwing error, this one on a throw to second by Clarke on a stolen base attempt with runners at the corners in the third inning, allowed Anthony Prato to score from third to cut Wisconsin’s lead to one run.
Wisconsin answered in the top of the fourth. Black walked with one out and Joe Gray Jr walked with two outs. Tristan Peters fouled off two straight 2-2 pitches before launching a three-run home run to left and Wisconsin was up 6-2.
Prato hit a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning for the Kernels off Moore. The Rattlers right-hander would
Moore allowed three runs – one earned – on five hits, no walks, two hit batsmen, and four strikeouts over six innings before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Joey Matulovich struck out a pair in a perfect bottom of the seventh.
Prato tripled to start the bottom of the eighth against James Meeker, but it took a two-out single by Jeferson Morales to get Prato across the plate. Meeker got the final out of the eighth and stranded two runners.
Cam Robinson took over for Meeker to start the ninth inning against the bottom third of the Kernels order. He hit Will Holland and gave up a single to Wander Javier. The Kernels sent Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the Midwest League leader in RBI, to the plate as a pinch-hitter as the winning run, but Robinson got him to fly out to center for the first out. Then, Robinson walked Prato to load the bases.
The crowd got really revved up when Robinson ran the count full on Seth Gray before Robinson struck him out for the second out. That brought Aaron Sabato to the plate.
Sabato had tormented the Timber Rattlers throughout the series. He had doubled earlier in the game, homered in each of the last two games, and collected eight RBI in the first five games of the series. That was who stepped in as the last chance for the Kernels.
Robinson missed with the first pitch and Sabato fouled off the next two. That set up Robinson to freeze Sabato for a called third strikeout to end the game and pick up his ninth save of the season. It wasn’t easy, but Robinson extended his scoreless streak to 15-1/3 innings. He has not allowed a run since April 28.
Wisconsin is one game behind the Kernels in the first half Western Division standings. Sunday was the final meeting of the half between the top two teams in the division. There are 21 games left in the half.
The Timber Rattlers are off on Monday. They return to action with game one of a homestand against the Peoria Chiefs on Tuesday night at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium. Justin Jarvis (3-2, 4.50) is the scheduled starting pitcher for Wisconsin. Peoria has named Zane Mills (0-1, 7.20) as their starting pitcher. Game time is 6:40pm.