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Kernels Win On Licon Walk-Off Single

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CEDAR RAPIDS Fair or foul? If you were at Veterans Memorial Stadium in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, you get a vote.

It doesn't count, of course. The only one whose opinion mattered in this case was home-plate umpire Malachi Moore.

He said Joel Licon's hard grounder down the third-base line with two outs was fair, and that allowed the Cedar Rapids Kernels to walk off with a 3-2 win over Quad Cities.

That's the end of the River Bandits' seven-game win streak, but not the end of the Kernels remaining in first place in the Midwest League's Western Division. Cedar Rapids (67-43, 27-15) increased its tenuous second-half lead to 1 1/2 games over QC.

"When I hit it, it started fair," Licon said. "I was just hoping the umpire was going to call it a fair ball. Just like the one before."

The one before came in the eighth inning, a Brian Blasik grounder down third that Moore also called fair, to the chagrin of the opponent. At least he was consistent.

It was a batter's interference call on Travis Harrison of the Kernels as Adam Brett Walker stole second base in the fourth that got Kernels Manager Jake Mauer tossed for the third time this season. He was in the clubhouse listening to radio guy Morgan Hawk's call of the ending of the game.

"We'll take it," Mauer said. "On the radio broadcast, Morgan didn't think it was fair, I'll tell you that."

The Kernels haven't been particularly strong offensively this past week, perhaps a sign the August dog days have arrived. Jonathan Murphy led off the bottom of the first with a triple to the gap in left-center, but he would be the last Kernel to reach scoring position until the ninth.

Jorge Polanco placed a five-hopper through the right side for a one-out single against Quad Cities closer Juan Minaya. Adam Brett Walker then lined a two-strike single to center, with the hit rolling under the glove of QC center fielder Teoscar Hernandez for a two-base error that scored Polanco and sent Walker all the way to third.

Max Kepler was intentionally walked, and Minaya struck out Harrison with three consecutive breaking balls. Licon fouled away the first pitch he saw, then turned on a ball that may or may not have been fair.

"He threw three straight curveballs to Harrison, so I figured he'd come after me with fastballs," Licon said. "He gave me a first-pitch fastball, and I swung and fouled it off. He was throwing Harrison those curveballs, so then I was kind of sitting on those. I just got a pitch I could handle."

Kernels starting pitcher Jose Berrios Houdini-ed his way through six innings, giving up five hits and six walks but just one run. The past month has not been kind to the 19-year-old from Puerto Rico, whose earned run average in his previous five starts was 5.69.

"As a young 19-year-old kid in low-A ball, you hit a wall sometimes," said Kernels pitching coach Gary Lucas. "Because he's 19, because (he's thrown) 100 innings, because he's away from home as one of the few Latin players on the club. Pick out a scenario. The kid's new to pro ball, it's his first full season. I think it's a combination of all of those things.

"I think he has gotten hit enough this year to where he picks at the corners and gets reluctant to let them hit it and put it in play. Sometimes he'll get out in front of his arm. It's a combination of a lot of things."

The teams play again Monday night at 6:35, then conclude their four-game series Tuesday night at 6:35. Mark Appel, the first-overall pick is this June's MLB draft, is scheduled to start Tuesday for Quad Cities.
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