While baseball is often measured by wins and losses, it is ultimately defined as a game. And as Eau Claire Express catcher Daniel Salters put it, games are supposed to be enjoyed.
That's exactly the approach Salters and the rest of the squad took to Sunday's game as they snapped a four-game losing streak by staying loose in a 6-3 win in front of 1,618 people at Carson Park.
"These past couple of games, we’ve been really tight and tense," Salters said. "So we just talked last night about loosening up and playing fundamental baseball and having fun. We did that tonight, and it worked out."
After scoring just five runs in the first three games of the homestand, the Express exloded for six runs on 10 hits in the contest, including three each from Daniel Salters and Brady Burzynski. Also for the first time this homestand, the Express didn't have to play catch up as a third-inning single from Salters scored Burzynski to make it 1-0.
We’ve kind of been wrestling the past three games, and to get a lead felt really good," Salters said. "Everybody was pretty amped up about it.”
Express starting pitcher Conner Rusch gave his teammates plenty to smile about, as well. He didn't need a whole lot of run support as he wound up going his season-long 7.1 innings on the mound while giving up just two runs, one earned, and striking out three to earn his second win of the season.
"We just talked last night about loosening up and playing fundamental baseball and having fun. We did that tonight, and it worked out."
“I was throwing strikes, got a lot of groundballs and had a lot of really good plays behind me,” Rusch said.
The offense gave Rusch a 3-0 lead headed into the eighth inning after Peter Van Gansen scored when Drew Turbin was hit by a pitch in the fifth. Two innings later, Turbin created instant offense on the base paths with two stolen bases in one at-bat. He scored on a passed ball later in the frame.
While Rusch faced hardly any hiccups in the first seven innings, he loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth. A throwing error scored two runs, and he was pulled with one out. But Eric Gleese got two straight flyouts to preserve a one-run lead headed into the bottom of the eighth.
The Express responded by scoring three times in the bottom of the inning.
For the second time in the game, Salters drove in Burzynski with a hard-hit single. The All-Star Salters raised to a season-high .315 with his offensive outburst Sunday after taking two straight "0-fors" at the beginning of the homestand.
"I was just working on keeping my shoulder on it," he said. "I was kind of just pulling off, so (I was) kind of trying to stay through the ball."
Later in the inning, Lane Milligan scored on a Drew Turbin fielder's choice. Salters ended the scoring by coming around on a wild pitch.
The Honkers made it interesting against Gleese in the ninth, scoring a run and loading the bases with the winning run at the plate and two outs. But Gleese sat him down on a fastball to end things Sunday as well as the streak.
The Express still remain just 1.5 games out of first place in the second half of the North Division race.
"It was a big win for us today," Rusch said. "We're still in the hunt."
They start a two-game series on the road against Duluth starting tomorrow at Wade Stadium, and they don't intend on bringing the tense and tight attitudes from the previous three nights with them to Lake Superior.
“We’re just going to continue to stay loose, have fun playing the game," Salters said. "That’s honestly the biggest part. We have a lot of really good players on this team. Upcoming series, that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
First pitch tomorrow is set for 6:35 p.m.