GENEVA – Cougars players dined on brisket and flipped between Major League matinees Wednesday afternoon, absorbing a rare home loss much as they might savor a victory.
About the only missing ingredient was postgame clubhouse music, but Wisconsin muted the need for that with a 5-3 victory that ended the Cougars’ 11-game winning streak at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Still the best team in the Midwest League at 23-10 – including a 16-3 mark at home – Kane County chewed the sunny reality of the season’s first month in relative silence largely because that’s what protocol demands.
“You live and you learn and you’re not going to win every game, but it’s being able to battle and just put yourself in position to win,” third baseman David Bote said. “We’ve put ourselves in position to win, had that chance today.”
Wisconsin (14-18) kept the Cougars from sweeping the series and a six-game homestand as reliever Tyler Alexander escaped a first-and-third, one-out situation in the bottom of the ninth.
The Timber Rattlers played small ball in the top half to score a pair of go-ahead runs against righty Michael Wagner in his Cougars debut.
Most spectators had scattered by the time Alexander recorded the final out, but those who remained saluted the Cougars, who are nearly halfway to the club’s 2013 total of 33 home wins.
“Last year, it felt like we couldn’t buy a win at home. This year, completely different story, obviously,” right-hander Justin Amlung said. “Winning in front of the home fans and saying that this is a different ballclub than last year, hopefully, they get excited for us.”
Pitching before a season-high and schoolkid-saturated crowd of 7,433 on the sixth Ozzie’s Reading Club matinee of the season, Amlung could relate to many in the stands.
Ever figure you’d present a project later in the period, just not right away? That was Amlung. Slated to work in relief for the eighth time this season Wednesday, he learned this week he’d be filling in for scheduled starter Juan Paniagua, who was visiting his ailing grandmother in his native Dominican Republic.
Amlung threw 72 pitches in a season-high six innings and earned a no-decision. He never had gone beyond four innings in 2014, but used a sinking, two-seam fastball to work around homers from Wisconsin’s David Denson and Clint Coulter to scatter three runs, four hits and five strikeouts.
Amlung (2.45) and lefty reliever Nathan Dorris (1.59), who also pitched with the Cougars last season, boast two of the pitching staff’s top six ERAs and have combined for seven victories.
“They did a great job last year and are doing the same thing this year,” manager Mark Johnson said. “Picked up where they left off, and that’s all you can do. No matter if you repeat or not, you’ve got to do what you can do to succeed and put up numbers, and sooner or later, it’ll pay off and spots will be open for you. You’ve got to keep doing what you do.”
Bote went 2 for 3 and first baseman Jacob Rogers went 2 for 4 for the Cougars, who will look to recapture their home vibe after a six-game trip to Burlington and Beloit.
“You just look back and see what we did wrong,” Bote said, “see the things that beat you.”
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Duane Underwood, 0-0, 3.24 ERA) at Burlington (RHP Garrett Nuss, 3-0, 2.96 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
Will he is
The parent Cubs on Wednesday named catcher Will Remillard their organizational position player of the month for April.
A 19th round pick in last June’s draft, Remillard batted .373 (19 for 51) with a home run, six doubles and 15 RBIs during the month – his first in professional ball. He opened the season 2 for 19, but has surged since hitting coach Tom Beyers recommended Remillard add a slight leg kick to his swing as he approaches the pitcher.
“Tommy’s helped me tremendously. I’ve come a long way, and hopefully I can keep going and keep getting better every day,” Remillard said.
Former Cougars outfielder/designated hitter Rock Shoulders, now with Advanced-A Daytona, earned the same accolades in April 2013.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon once said, “Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”
On Wednesday, the first part of those words rung true, anyway, as most among the season-high crowd of 7,433 were schoolkids playing organized hooky for an Ozzie’s Reading Club matinee.
The previous 2014 attendance high was 6,331 Friday’s “Star Wars Night” game against Burlington.
Cougars general manager Curtis Haug said more than 100 busloads of students attended Wednesday’s game.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com