Great Season Ends for Kernels with 4-2 Loss to Quad Cities
By Josh Christensen and Jeff Johnson
CEDAR RAPIDS – Some year, the Cedar Rapids Kernels will end what has become a two-decade drought and win the Midwest League championship. But it won’t be this year.
The Quad Cities River Bandits completed a sweep of the Kernels Thursday night via a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of this first-round playoff series.
A very nice midweek crowd of 2,660 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium seemed more than ready to make noise, but their boys ended up not giving them a whole lot to cheer about. So many wins this season, but none when rings were on the line.
“We accomplished so much. Growth from every player,” said Kernels catcher Michael Quesada. “As a person and a player, everyone just grew up a whole lot this season. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but we definitely battled. We never, ever gave up. This happens sometimes. Some teams just have your number. We ran into the wrong team at the wrong time.”
Quad Cities faces Beloit in the Western Division finals beginning Saturday. The River Bandits went 12-6 against Cedar Rapids this season, the only team in the division to have a winning record against a club that won a league-high 88 games, second-most in club history.
The last MWL title for the City of Five Seasons came in 1994.
“They have a lot of talent over there,” said Kernels outfielder Adam Brett Walker. “Their pitching staff was kind of keeping us off balance. They weren’t afraid to mix up their pitches. They were just trying to get us out of our game. That’s a good ballclub. We were going to have to win a lot of close ballgames to beat them, and we weren’t able to do that. Tough way to end it.”
Walker appeared to bring the Kernels within 4-3 when he obliterated a pitch down the left-field line in the fourth inning for an apparent two-run home run. But the soaring drive was called fouled by home plate umpire Nick Garvey, who got an earful from hitting coach Tommy Watkins from the dugout and a face-to-face earful from Manager Jake Mauer.
Walker ended up grounding out, the Kernels didn’t score and never seriously threatened to tie it again.
“Yeah, I thought it was fair,” Walker said. “I saw it and just took off running. Tried to change the game there … Even their third baseman came to me and said it was fair. Maybe the umpire was the only one who thought it was foul. He was the only one that matters.”
Cedar Rapids led the Midwest League in runs and several other offensive categories this season but finished the series with just eight hits. The Kernels struck out 19 times, nine in Game 1 Wednesday night and 10 Thursday night.
“They had the book on us, had a good pitch plan,” Mauer said. “We had a lot of strikeouts.”
He was asked if that plan included a lot of offspeed pitches, which seemed to be what starter Joe Bircher and three relief mates offered a lot.
“It sure looked like it,” Mauer said. “I think they knew we had a hard time with lefties because we saw a lot of lefties. They just slowed the ball down quite a bit. You strike out 10 times, nine times the night before, it’s going to be tough to score some runs. But our guys competed, played hard. There are a lot of guys in (the clubhouse) that could have lost their temper, lost their heads, and they didn’t. They battled through, and that’s kind of how they did all year.”
“I just think we haven’t been playing scared of them,” Bircher said. “We just kept continuing our thought process of attack, attack, attack all the time, and that worked out well. Give them all kinds of credit becausef they had a phenomenal season. But we were able to come in here and keep our confidence rolling.”
Jonathan Murphy led off the bottom of the first with a line-drive homer onto the porch in left field to put Cedar Rapids on top right away. Quad Cities tied it in the top of the second against starting pitcher Tim Shibuya and went ahead with three runs in the fourth.
Rio Ruiz led off with a homer to right-center, and Teoscar Hernandez stuck the dagger in with a huge two-out, two-run single through the left side of the infield. The Kernels got a run in the sixth on a Jorge Polanco double and Max Kepler RBI groundout, but Quad Cities pitchers retired the final 11 hitters.
“Obviously we had a nice year and everything,” Mauer said. “You just hope they don’t think the season was a failure or anything because of this. They played their hearts out, got a lot better because of that. That’s what it’s all about.”
“Quad Cities is a good ballclub, a really solid ballclub,” Quesada said. “They’re just as loaded as we are at every position. I think people might look past that a little bit. They’re just a really, really good ballclub. They beat us. We didn’t beat ourselves, they beat us.”
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