Rochester Honkers general manager Jeremy Aagard joked that it felt like the Honkers went 7-800 last season. In reality, Rochester finished a trying 2020 campaign at 7-32. They wanted to get that bad taste out of their mouths right away in 2021.
They've done just that.
For the second night in a row, Rochester rallied out of a late hole and beat Eau Claire 8-7 in 10 innings thanks to a walk-off single from leadoff hitter Ryan Thibert.
Paul Weidner's Honkers certainly have a flair for the dramatic as they've dug out of two late-night deficits. They're 2-0 this season despite trailing in the seventh inning on back-to-back nights.
"It showed a lot," Weidner said. "I was particularly happy with the way they came together. when you bring a bunch of guys together, you don't know what you're going to get. But they showed a lot in the last two innings with what they're able to do for each other to try and get a team win. That's a really big deal."
Three stars of the game
1. Ryan Thibert
When Rochester needed him most, Ryan Thibert came through. Thibert drilled a walk-off single to right field to give the Honkers a big-time victory. He'd singled once but struggled in his next four at-bats before delivering in the clutch.
2. Eric Rataczak
The Honkers’ first baseman was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts entering the seventh inning, but he came through with the clutch go-ahead RBI double to give Rochester a 6-5 lead. Jordan Stevens had walked and Rataczak jumped all over the first-pitch fastball from Dillon Whittaker and smoked it into the right-center alley. Stevens scored without a throw.
3. Seth Betts
Seth Betts hammered a moonshot bomb on Monday and he was a strong performer yet again on Tuesday. The Rochester shortstop scored three runs, including the game-tying run in the seventh inning. Betts has the ability to hammer the ball out of the ballpark, but he saw the Eau Claire third-baseman playing deep so he dropped down a gorgeous bunt. He stole second and came home on Marco Castillo's sacrifice fly. The Crown College product looks like a baller.
What it means
A new-and-improved form of baseball has come to Rochester. The Honkers struggled mightily in all aspects of the game last year. The lineup was inconsistent and strikeout-prone, and the pitching was uncompetitive far too many times. It's a minuscule sample size and the roster is going to change (for the better) with some additions, but the Honkers look to be a much sounder club in 2021. The pitching doesn't even have its full arsenal, but Weidner has pushed all the right buttons so far. Aaron Vernon, Matthew Maldonado, Austin Moberg and Tony Lanier combined to strike out 15 hitters on Tuesday and they only walked three batters. Which was a far cry from the Eau Claire pitching staff that walked eight.
Austin Moberg had a right to be in a bad mood. A passed ball had allowed Eau Claire to take a 5-4 lead in the top of the seventh inning and they were looking for insurance runs. The Rochester righty kept his cool and turned and fired a perfect pickoff throw to second base to catch Alex Logelin sneaking off the bag. It turned out to be a really big play because on the very next pitch, Alejandro Macario singled which would’ve given Eau Claire a 6-4 lead. Instead, Moberg stayed strong and fanned Jarod Wandersee and Sam Hunt to limit the damage and keep the Honkers in the game. Rochester would go on to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Honkers will host Waterloo on Wednesday at 6:35 p.m. The Bucks had Rochester’s number all of last season, so Weidner’s crew will look to keep the hot streak alive.