CEDAR RAPIDS – The Cedar Rapids Kernels’ playoff chances look like Mitch Garver did postgame Wednesday night.
“Not great,” Garver said, after a 2-0 loss to Burlington in Game 1 of their Midwest League playoff series at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The catcher was talking about how he felt, but it was a dual-purpose comment. Garver took a pair of vicious foul tips, tried to shake them off but finally succumbed to pinch-hitter Michael Quesada in the sixth inning.
He sat in a chair at his clubhouse locker stall with red, glassy eyes, dizziness and a headache. Almost certainly it’s a concussion, which would be his second this season.
The Kernels not only face playing Games 2 and 3 (if needed) on the road, but without a MWL postseason all-star and, by far, their best offensive player. The teams tee it back up Thursday night at 6:35 at Burlington’s Community Field, with the Bees holding a huge hammer.
“It’s a shame,” Manager Jake Mauer said. “He’s a guy who came up here with us from (spring training), been here the whole year. He was trying like heck to stay in that game, but his symptoms were just too (bad).”
Eric Aguilera provided the big hit for Burlington … again. His home run the other way to left-center leading off the bottom of the sixth gave the Bees the only run they’d need.
It came on the very first pitch Chris Mazza threw. Aguilera hit an astounding .415 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 15 games against the Kernels in the regular season, so this was nothing new.
“He has abused us, there’s no doubt about it,” Mauer said. “He has hit balls to left, he has hit balls to right, he has walked. In Burlington, he caught a ball (from first base) down by the bullpen, came up and threw the guy out at home … It was a changeup left up. Got it up in that jetstream, and it just went.”
Starter Chih-Wei Hu gave Cedar Rapids five shutout innings, but it took him a season-high 90 pitches to do it, so Mauer decided to go to a bullpen that has been his team’s strength in the second half. Brandon Bayardi dumped an RBI single into center with two outs in the seventh inning for an insurance run against Mazza.
The Kernels had a lot of bad-looking at-bats against Burlington starter Victor Alcantara and relievers Brian Loconsole and Alan Busenitz. They also had some bad-luck at-bats.
Alex Swim reached on an infield single leading off the bottom of the ninth against Busenitz. Williams then smoked a ball toward the third-base line that third baseman Zach Houchins snared and turned into a double play.
Had it been hit a smidge higher, it’d have been a double easy, considering Burlington was playing him way off the line in left. Naturally, Max Murphy followed with a single, with Logan Wade striking out swinging to end it.
“Sometimes balls don’t fall your way,” Williams said. “It easily could have been runners on second and third there.”
Cedar Rapids beat Burlington six straight times in the second half, though in such a short series, that’s meaningless, as you saw Thursday night. Lefty Mat Batts gets the starting pitching nod for the Kernels, as he tries to save their season.
Lefty Sean Newcomb, the parent Angels’ top draft pick in June, gets the ball for Burlington.
“We’ve just got to bounce back and win two in a row,” said Kernels first baseman Chad Christensen. “That’s all there is to it.”
“If you think you have a team down, especially in baseball … you never have somebody beat,” Mauer said. “We beat them six of the last six or whatever, but you look at the scoreboard today, and everybody was batting zero. You get to the playoffs, everybody is going to put their best foot forward. Sometimes it comes down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. We left a ball up, they hit it over the fence, and that’s it.”
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