Welcome to Tater Tuesday on Rattler Radio. Each Tuesday this off-season we will look at home runs or – as the Great George Scott called them – taters.
Matt Hagen was the first Timber Rattlers player to really make a run at breaking Juan Silvestre’s single season home run record. Silvestre set the record with 21 homers in 1999. Hagen, a 12th round pick out of Liberty in the 2002 draft, had hit seven homers in 63 games at Everett in his professional debut. There was some thought that he could hit some home run in 2003. He hit 18 homers in his final season of college and that was good enough to lead the Big South Conference.
Let’s take a look at Hagen’s record-tying season of taters.
#1 April 9 (Game two) vs. Clinton: Bottom of the fourth inning. A solo home run with two outs brought the Rattlers to within 3-2. Hagen had doubled in the second inning to give the Rattlers a 1-0 lead, but the LumberKings scored three times off TA Fulmer in the top of the fourth to take a lead. This was Opening Day for the 2003 Timber Rattlers. It was originally supposed to be game #7 of the season. Yep. The first six games of the season were postponed or cancelled due to snow and cold.
#2 April 14 at Burlington: Top of the eighth inning off Kahi Kaanoi. A three-run home run with one out broke a 1-1 tie. Hagen had also driven in the first Wisconsin run of the game with an RBI grounder in the fourth inning. He would drive in all four runs of the 4-2 win over the Bees.
#3 May 5 at Lansing: Top of the second inning off Jae Kuk Ryu. A three-run home run with one out tied the game 3-3. But, the Rattlers would lose 10-6.
#4 May 9 vs. Battle Creek: Bottom of the second inning off Jose Garcia. A solo homer with one out made it 4-0 Wisconsin. This home run was the second of the inning for the Timber Rattlers. Rene Rivera had homered earlier in the frame. The Rattlers went on to an 11-2 win over the Yankees.
#5 May 10 vs. Battle Creek: Bottom of the seventh inning off Thad Makray. A three-run home run with two out put Wisconsin up 6-1. There were two outs and none on in the seventh with the Rattlers holding a 3-1 lead. Rivera was hit by a pitch. Makray committed a balk and Carlos Arroyo singled for runners on the corners. Hagen went deep and the Rattlers picked up a 6-2 win behind a complete game by Fulmer…and a Hagen’s second homer in as many games.
#6 May 12 (Game two) vs. Battle Creek: Bottom of the fourth inning off Jose Valdez. A solo homer with one out got the Rattlers to within 4-2. One thing that you will notice about Hagen’s season is his tendency to hit home runs in bunches. The game on May 11 was rained out and he didn’t homer in game one on May 12. This tater was his third in four games against the Yankees.
#7 May 26 at Fort Wayne: Top of the seventh inning off David Pauley. A leadoff home run cut into Fort Wayne’s lead and made the score 7-3. The Rattlers would come all the way back to tie the game on a Gary Harris grand slam later in the seventh. But, the Wizards – yes, they were still the Wizards – got a run in the seventh and two runs in the eighth to beat the Rattlers 10-7.
#8 May 30 vs. West Michigan: Bottom of the third inning off Ross Koenig. A grand slam with no outs gave Wisconsin a 9-0 lead. Koenig came into the game in a tough spot. The bases were loaded and there were no outs. A run was already in after starting pitcher Matt Pender had walked Blake Bone with the bases loaded to force in a run and be pulled from the game. Hagen crushed a 1-1 pitch from Koenig for the bases loaded homer and the Rattlers were on the way to a 12-2 win. Side note: Bobby Livingston was the starting pitcher in this game and his record went to 9-1.
#9 June 6 vs. Fort Wayne: Bottom of the sixth inning off Brian Whitaker. A leadoff home run tied the game 1-1. This game didn’t start until 7:44 due to rain. It was a scoreless game until Fort Wayne had scored an unearned run in the rain in the top of the sixth. Whitaker had allowed one hit, but had faced the minimum through the first five innings. The rain was pouring down harder as Hagen stepped in and lined the first pitch of the sixth inning out of the park to tie the game. The tarp went on the field after Whitaker retired the next three batters on four pitches. The game was called after about thirty minutes of steady rain. Since this was the last meeting of the half between the Rattlers and the Wizards, this game ended in a tie; the only tie in Timber Rattlers history.
#10 June 7 at South Bend: Top of the fourth off Ryan Coffin. A two-run home run with two outs tied the game 3-3. The weird thing about this at bat was Bone, who had walked to keep the inning alive, was on first with two outs and moved to second and third on two wild pitches with Hagen at the plate. Coffin grooved a 3-2 pitch to Hagen and the homer tied the game on the way to a 12-4 Rattlers win.
#11 June 15 at Kane County: Top of the fifth off Bill Murphy. A two-run home run with one out. Wisconsin trailed 3-0 before this home run. Both the Timber Rattlers and the Cougars had already clinched a playoff spot in the first half. They entered the final day of the first half tied. The winner would be the first half champion of the Western Division and drop the other team into the Wild Card spot. The Rattlers would tie the game later in the fifth on an RBI double by Michael Garciaparra. But, an error led to a three-run bottom of the fifth for the Cougars. Kane County would win the game 7-3. There’s something else about this home run that I will touch on at the end of the column. See if you can figure out that thing is before I tell you.
#12 June 19 vs. Burlington: Bottom of the seventh off Colt Griffin. A two-run home run with no outs tied the game 2-2. Colt Griffin’s story is an interesting one. This Baseball America story from 2001 is the start. The end…well, just use Google. In this game, the Rattlers would lose 3-2 in ten innings in the second half opener. Donnie Murphy drew a lead-off walk in the tenth and scored the go-ahead run.
#13 June 20 vs. Burlington: Bottom of the fourth inning off Kieran Mattison. A solo homer with two outs. This made the score 6-1. The Bees had scored six runs in the top of the first inning. Wisconsin lost 9-2.
#14 July 6 vs. Clinton: Bottom of the sixth off Omar Beltre. A two-run home run with two outs. The Rattlers trailed 6-1 before this homer. Wisconsin would lose 7-5.
#15 July 8 vs. Dayton: Bottom of the seventh off Joel Barretto. A solo home run with two outs. This got the Rattlers to within 6-4. Unfortunately, that would be the final score as the Rattlers lost to the Dragons at home despite outhitting Dayton 12-7
#16 July 9 vs. Dayton: Bottom of the first inning off Justin Gillman. A two-run home run with two outs put the Rattlers up 2-0 on the way to a 9-0 win over the Dragons at home. This makes three home runs in four games for Hagen.
#17 July 23 vs. Peoria: Bottom of the eighth inning off Rich Scalamandre. A solo homer with one out tied the game 3-3. This homer may have tied the game, but just like the game against Burlington on June 19, the opponents won the game in extra innings. Peoria score a run in the tenth for a 4-3 win.
#18 July 24 vs. Peoria: Bottom of the ninth inning off Andy Cavazos. A leadoff homer tied the game 5-5. But, history repeated itself again. The Chiefs scored a run in the top of the tenth and held on for a 6-5 win.
#19 August 2 vs. Quad Cities: Bottom of the sixth inning off Tristan Crawford. A solo homer with one out pushed Wisconsin’s lead to 11-5.
#20 August 4 (Game one) vs. Quad Cities: Bottom of the second inning off Josh Gray. A solo homer with one out put the Rattlers up 1-0. The Rattlers would win the game 4-2. The game on August 3 was rained out. This makes another case of homers in consecutive games for Hagen.
#21 August 9 vs. Beloit: Bottom of the fifth inning off Jon Huizinga. A solo homer with one out made the score 7-1 in favor of the Timber Rattlers, who went on to win the game 11-3. This homer tied Silvestre’s record and it came in game number 115 of the season. Hagen did not homer again. The season ended on September 1 with game number 139. His average dropped from .232 to .220 over the final three weeks of the season. Hagen drove in five runs over the final 24 games of the season.
Hagen’s Tater Breakdown:
Grand Slam: 1
If you noticed that Hagen’s home run on June 15 at Kane County was his final road home run of the season, pat yourself on the back. Hagen hit 16 home runs at home and five on the road with no road homers in the second half.
I remember Hagen hit a ball at home – for some reason the date August 22 against Burlington sticks in my head – that hit high off the wall in left. Maybe two feet higher and he would have set the home run record at that time.
As mentioned above, the season ended on September 1. Hagen was not in the lineup at Kane County that day. I was a bit surprised by that, but – if I am remembering right – there was a reason for it. I am recalling Hagen fouling a ball off his knee that knocked him out of a game and caused him to miss a few games down the stretch.
Hagen would make it as high as Inland Empire in 2004 and 2005 before the Mariners let him go and he wrapped up the 2005 season with New Jersey in the Canadian-American Association. The San Diego Padres signed Hagen for 2006 and he played for both Lake Elsinore and Mobile in the Padres organization.
From there it was on to the independent ranks: Rockford in the Frontier League in 2007, Somerset (playing for former Fox Cities Foxes pitcher Sparky Lyle) from 2008 through 2011, and Sugar Land in 2012.