There is no mystery how I have been spending most of my evenings. As a HUGE Wisconsin Woodchucks fan, a season ticket holder, and for the first time a team sponsor, I have only missed a couple of Woodchucks home games. However, the ‘Chucks need to realize that I am not in that good of shape and they are giving me a heart attack.
Earlier this season, the ‘Chucks had a one game lead for the first half playoff seat when they went into a multiple game losing skid.
Eau Claire ended up winning the seat for the first half of the season and they also have locked up the best record for the second half of the season. When the same team wins the first and second half, the team to join them in the playoffs is the team with the (next) best overall record.
By the first full weekend in August, it was clear this was going to be a four-team race to the finish. The ‘Chucks were just a game or so out of the play-off spot fighting for their lives with Green Bay, Madison and La Crosse all going for that same seat in the play-offs. Dropping a game to Wisconsin Rapids on August 5th started giving fans flashbacks from the first half of the season. However they did end up taking the next two games from the Rafters, allowing them to keep pace. Then came a Sunday trip to Eau Claire, where they managed to take one from the division-leading Express in their own house.
On Monday, August 9th, the ‘Chucks returned home to Athletic Park where they would be finishing the season with 7 of their last 8 games at home. The good news was the ‘Chucks controlled their own destiny. They were a game behind Green Bay, but would be playing Green Bay twice. La Crosse and Madison were also still in the mix, but the ‘Chucks would be finishing the season against the La Crosse Loggers. So, after winning three in a row, the game plan was simple. Win and you’re in.
And win they did. They swept Green Bay, taking the first game here in Wausau, and then traveling to Green Bay and beating them there. Then back home for the last six games of the season. Three games would be played against the Waterloo Bucks who were long ago eliminated from the post-season.
It was this series that the ‘Chucks decided to try to give some of their more heavy fans heart attacks (one TV station even called them the coronary kids). The first game against Waterloo on Wednesday, August 11th, was a pitcher’s battle. All four teams trying to get into the playoffs had been winning. The ‘Chucks were leading the way, but with no rooms for mis-steps. And the first mis-step was on the way trailing the Bucks 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. The “Come Back Kids” (which I prefer) managed to tie up the game and in the bottom of the 10th inning with two outs and a runner on, a well hit ball to second-base was mis-handled and went off the second baseman’s foot and into the outfield. Waterloo’s first error of this very tight game resulted in a ‘Chucks 3-2 victory in extra-inning, walk-off fashion.
Then came Thursday…. Record Book Thursday. I was there last year when Bobby Pritchett threw a no-hitter, but as for excitement, Thursday …. It still boggles the mind.
It was a game that started off with errors, mental errors, throwing errors, bad judgment, you name it, it happened. Waterloo had an 8-run second inning. The score after the top of the third was 10-0 Waterloo. Not only was the 6-game win streak coming to an end, a loss would take the ‘Chucks’ destiny out of their hands.
But, even with the number of fans easily cut in half, the players never lost hope. They started chipping away at that massive lead. After spotting the Bucks 10 runs, they came back to score two runs in the 4th and 5th. The Bucks got another run also, so 11-4 after 5 innings. It was 11-5 after 6. Although we were chipping away, we could have done more. We had left runners stranded on 2nd and 3rd in the 5th inning, and left the bases loaded in the 6th. Although we got the score to 11-6 after 7, in the top of the 8th, the ‘Chucks’ fourth error of the evening plated Waterloo’s 12th run. So, going into the bottom of the 8th inning, we had 2 at-bats to score 6 runs.
The motto seemed to be everything after 2. After a ground out to the pitcher and a fly out to right field, the bats got hot. After three straight hits, we brought the score up to 12-8. The runner on 1st advanced with a passed ball and the next batter was put on first with a hit pitch. The rally ended with a strike out. The umpire’s calls all night were debatable, but that last strike was right down the middle, called third strike.
Although Waterloo got a runner in scoring position, the ‘Chucks were able to hold them. But, they still needed 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth to stay alive. The lead off batter hits a double, and the single from the next batter plated him, 12-9. After a long fly ball caught on the center field warning track, a “texas leaguer” hit puts runners on 1 and 2 for the ‘Chucks. THEN IT HAPPENS! A shot over dead center, the longest part of the field (360), the highest part of the wall, a shot that cleared with a ton of room to spare and the sparse crowd still at the game erupted…. The 3-run shot makes it a new ballgame, 12-12.
Although the winning run did get on base, Waterloo managed to get out of the rest of the inning and for the second straight night, into the 10th we go. A ground out to first, a strike out looking, then a stand-up double to right-center…. BUT WAIT… a high-light reel diving catch and the Bucks are shut down 1-2-3. The Chucks get a hit between a strike out and a fly-out. After a stolen base, we have a runner on 2nd with 2 out. A walk off hit seals the deal, ‘Chuck win 13-12 keeping both their win streak and play-off hopes alive.
The final Waterloo game was again a come from behind win done in dramatic fashion. The ‘Chucks were on a tear, winning 8 games in a row going into their final three games of the season. Although the play-offs don’t technically start until Tuesday, they actually started Saturday. As coincidence would have it, all 4 times going for the title were playing each other. The Chucks were playing La Crosse here in Wausau, and Madison would be hosting Green Bay. The ‘Chucks had gotten a little wiggle-room, but not much. They had to take 2 of 3 to be in.
Saturday, the Chucks showed the play-off caliber team they are. After spotting the Loggers two runs in the top of the 1st, they came back to dominate the rest of the game with a 13-3 victory. This eliminated the Loggers from the play-offs. Madison also beat Green Bay taking them out. So, we are down to two. As of Sunday, the Chucks needed 1 win, OR needed Madison to lose 1 game.
Neither happened. The starting pitcher for La Crosse threw a complete game, 4-hitting the ‘Chucks on a 5-1 loss. Madison jumped out to an early 5-0 lead over Green Bay. The Bullfrogs fought back eventually tying the game at 5. However, a late run by Madison would seal the deal on the 6-5 Madison victory.
I should have known the play-off seat would not have been determined last night, this entire season has been about bringing the excitement and the drama down to the last pitch… and so it is again tonight. The Chucks play their final regular season game tonight, I game I will miss most of because of two other meetings. If the ‘Chucks win, they play Eau Claire in the first round of the play-offs. The ‘Chucks can still get in if they lose, but Green Bay would have to take the final game away from Madison. If Madison wins and the Chuck’s lose… then it will be the last game of the season… but what a season!!!