Life in the Minors
Looking for that sterling playoff finish
ONE week into the playoffs for the Windy City Thunderbolts, and two things are certain -- my feet are sore and we are playing each game with our backs up against the wall.
After posting a league-record 68-28 mark during the regular season, we swept three straight games to win our Division Series against the Rockford Riverhawks to put us in the Frontier League's Championship Series.
But after three days off, we came out flat and dropped the first two games of the championship series, putting us on the brink of elimination in the best-of-five affair.
As the top seed in the FL's playoff structure, we hosted the first two games before heading off on the 10-hour or so bus trip to Washington, Pa., on our travel day. One more loss would give the Washington Wild Things the league crown, and send us back on a bus trip that would last an eternity.
The playoff schedule has Washington hosting games three and four, with the series shifting back to our home stadium just outside of Chicago for game five, if the series extends that far.
With the task of having to win every game just to stay alive in the postseason, we knew the remainder of this series would test the mettle of our ballclub. As they have all season long, our players kept a level head in the face of adversity. Our identical 34-14 marks at home and on the road this season can be attributed to the business-like approach of our ballclub.
Going into our third game, I took no chances, as I continued to wear my worn Nike turf shoes. Even with the two losses, I decided to stay strong and see if the mojo would come back to us.
Fortunately for us, it did.
With our No. 3 starter Billy Phillips, we struck for a pair of two-run rallies in the third and sixth innings to give our lean right-hander all the runs he needed. At a time when we needed a dominating pitching performance, Billy followed his game plan to a tee, limiting the hot-hitting Wild Things to four hits and two runs with seven strikeouts over six innings.
With our championship hopes hanging in the balance, we know that we need to play every game as if it were Game 7 of the World Series -- we must do anything and everything to win -- so we can continue to play another day. Being a part of a team that has had such a special season, setting so many league and franchise records, we all know what a rare situation we're in.
Our manager, Andy Haines, raised a great point during one of his rare pregame speeches. He said that this was such a great team, such a great season, that he wasn't ready for it to end. His goal is to play one more day, every day, until Game 5 is over.
I'm hoping we can keep the dream alive for three more days as well. It would be a fitting finish for a team that has found many different ways to win all season long. A team that has genuinely enjoyed each day they played together.
One thing's for sure. We will continue to fight the good fight. And we will do it together. I'm just hoping we will experience a finish appropriate for the season we had.
Brendan Sagara, a former Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is the pitching coach for the Windy City ThunderBolts