GARY | Of the three other teams remaining in the American Association postseason, one is almost a mystery to the RailCats.
Fargo-Moorhead isn't that team.
The RailCats open the playoffs today with a 7:02 p.m. game at Newman Outdoor Field, a venue as recognizable to the franchise in the postseason as U.S. Steel Yard. On the other side of the bracket, Wichita meets Grand Prairie for the other best-of-seven series.
"You know they're going to be there, because Fargo's always there," RailCats veteran outfielder Mike Massaro said. "I call them the New York Yankees of Independent Baseball. They do a good job, they know how to win, they're there every year, it's what they do. We've got the team this year to get it done, to go in there, to beat them and to get it done. It's not going to be an easy task. They've been there, it's what they do and we're going into their house. It's cool because it's an old rival, so that makes it more fun as well."
The RailCats won their first Northern League Championship in 2005 beating the RedHawks in five games. In 2010, the last time the Gary team was in a postseason, the RailCats were swept by Fargo-Moorhead in three games.
This year, the RailCats hold the advantage. In seven games, the 'Cats went 4-3, taking two games in Fargo and splitting the four-game series in Gary.
Today's starter, Alain Quijano, went 1-1 against the RedHawks, winning his game in Fargo.
"If you had to pick your teams you'd play in the postseason, I'm not sure you'd pick (Fargo), but you have to beat the best teams," manager Greg Tagert said. "I think it's worked out that the four best clubs are left playing, and we feel that we deserve it and that we're part of that group. I don't think that we're at all on the outside looking in here. The way we've played all year, and the whole body of work from Day 1 on, and every club has some dry spells through the season, and we certainly have, but I think the record indicates the way we've played against the upper echelon clubs in the league that we certainly belong. I'm excited for the opportunity and I'm excited to see how our club goes in, because they're raring to go."
The RailCats held the lead in the AA wild card race most of the season, taking an advantage as big as five games at the start of August.
A sweep in Lincoln that was part of a four-game losing streak cut that lead to 1 1/2 games by Aug. 22.
"Our playoffs started three weeks ago, when our backs were to the wall, we went through that skid in Lincoln and we were a game and a half up," Massaro said. "Our last three weeks of the season, every night was a playoff mentality, a playoff atmosphere for us. That's going to keep us in a flow, keep us ready to go starting Wednesday."
The playoff mentality helped the RailCats win each of their last three series and eight of their last 10 games. That momentum can only be a good thing, Tagert says.
The American Association wild card team has made the championship finals each of the last two seasons with Winnipeg winning the title in 2012.
"They've been in playoff mode or must-series-win mode for a month," Tagert said. "Not that you're in that every day, but quite frankly you're not because most teams don't play the season that way, but this club has played that way, feeling like a playoff berth is on the line, whether we were six games up ... but we held off some teams which I think says a lot about this ballclub, and got some critical wins on days that we needed them the most after losing streaks, and we got some great pitching performances. What I've seen out of this club the last few weeks is just a club that's at such a high level of intensity and competitiveness that after a couple days here of a breather from those kind of ballgames, it's evident."