Kernels outlast Burlington in 17 innings, 4-3

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March 31, 2014 | 3:37 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS – OK, so maybe Ryan Jones was out at first base. Hey, umpires want to go home after a few hours, too.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels pinch runner sure appeared to be picked off in the 17th inning Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. But base umpire Rich Gonzales gave him a reprieve, calling him safe and allowing him to score on Travis Witherspoon’s two-out line-drive single down the left-field line as the Kernels beat Burlington, 4-3.

“No comment,” Witherspoon said with a smile, when asked if Jones had been picked off.

Cedar Rapids (18-8) moved within a half game of Burlington (18-7) in the MWL’s Western Division after this five-hour marathon. The poor Bees hit their bus about 12:40 p.m., driving a couple of hours back home, then having to return to the City of Five Seasons for another game at 6:35 Thursday night.

How many pitchers will be available for both clubs is anyone’s guess.

Ricky Alvarez led off the Kernels’ 17th with a four-pitch walk against lefty sidearmer Jeff Urlaub. Urlaub threw a couple of times over to first base before throwing a pitch to ensuing hitter Jean Almanzar, with the second of those throws catching pinch-runner Jones leaning toward second.

He dove into first and was called safe, to the chagrin of Burlington Manager Aaron Nieckula, who argued the call and was ejected. Almanzar bunted Jones to second, and he went to third on a Drew Heid groundout.

Witherspoon pulled a 1-1 pitch from Urlaub into left to win the game.

“It felt real good to end it,” Witherpoon said. “Just a good win for us a team. I wouldn’t say it was to0 tough to keep your mind going, it’s keeping your energy up. I mean, you are at it for so long you try to keep everyone in it.”

“You try and get them to have good at-bats instead of swinging for the fence,” Delo Chaiaro said. “You want to get some good swings together. But eventually delirium kind of settles in.

“It’s just good that they stayed focused for all 17.”

The Kernels rallied from a 3-0 fifth-inning hole against a club with the league’s best pitching staff stastically and against a starting pitcher that hadn’t given up an earned run in his first four starts. Blake Hassebrock allowed only two unearned runs in his first 22 innings, but Cedar Rapids nicked him for an unearned run in the fifth and two earned ones in the sixth.

The fifth-inning run scored on a two-out field error. Jeremy Cruz had an RBI single in the sixth, and David Harris a sacrifice fly to center to tie it.

Burlington came into the game with a 2.90 earned run average, far and away tops in the MWL. The Kernels were nine games over .500 despite ranking 11th in the league in batting average and seventh in ERA.

Both teams squandered good opportunities to go ahead or win the game in the late and extra innings.

Burlington got a leadoff double in the seventh, but Kernels reliever Dakota Robinson picked up back-to-back strikeouts and a groundout. Reliever Kevin Johnson stranded the go-ahead runs for the Bees in scoring position in the 10th and 11th.

Carlos Ramirez doubled leading off the bottom of the ninth for Cedar Rapids and was at third base with one out but didn’t score. The Kernels had a runner at second die in the 13th and runners at the corners in the 14th but could’t win the game.

The teams’ bullpens combined for 21 2/3 scoreless innings before Witherspoon’s hit. They allowed only 10 hits.

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