By John Bohnenkamp
CEDAR RAPIDS — Finding magic in the late innings was something the Burlington Bees did a lot in the first half of the Class A Midwest League season.
Now? Not so much.
The Bees were within one strike of getting a win on Friday night. Then Tyler Webb dumped a two-run double into right field, leading the Cedar Rapids Kernels to a 3-2 win.
Burlington led 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, but Tyler Smith (5-3) gave up back-to-back singles to Gilberto Celestino and Gabe Snyder, and two batters later both were steaming around the bases to score on Webb’s double that fell in between center fielder Spencer Griffin and right fielder Nonie Williams.
“They always say when you’re up 2-1, you’re a bloop and a blast away (from losing),” Bees manager Jack Howell said. “This was two hard hits, and then a bloop.”
Burlington fell to 4-11 in the second half. But deep inside that record are some other numbers.
The Bees are 2-5 in the half in one-run games, 0-4 in two-run games.
They’ve been close, but can’t finish. Which is something they were doing before the All-Star break. The Bees have 21 wins in one-run games.
The Bees were swept in the four-game home-and-home series to the Kernels. Burlington led in three of the games, and the Kernels won two games in their final at-bat.
“Two of these four games, we had the lead in the ninth and lost it,” Howell said. “There’s not a whole lot you can say. When you have leads in the ninth, you normally win.”
This was another pitching masterpiece. Bees starter Kyle Tyler allowed one run and struck out seven in seven innings. Cedar Rapids starter Josh Winder struck out eight and allowed three hits in seven innings.
Winder retired 15 consecutive Bees from the third through seventh innings. Tyler retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
“Those guys matched each other pitch for pitch,” Howell said. “They were both good.”
Two of Burlington’s four hits were home runs. Alvaro Rubalcaba had one in the third inning, then Tim Millard hit one in the eighth to give the Bees a 2-1 lead.
“In a game like this, two runs aren’t going to do it,” Howell said.
Smith entered the game in the bottom of the eighth and struck out all three Kernels he faced, part of a streak of six consecutive Cedar Rapids strikeouts.
In the ninth, he got Jacob Pearson on an easy grounder to second for the first out. Then came the hits, but it looked like Smith had a chance to get out of the inning when Jared Akins popped out before Webb worked the count to 3-2.
But Webb, playing in his first game with the Kernels, popped a ball that fell between Griffin and Williams. Williams had the better play on the ball once it fell, but he couldn’t get a handle on it. Celestino and Snyder, running on the pitch, scored easily.
“That’s why you play to the final out,” Howell said. “We have to find ways to close it out.”
The Bees begin a nine-game homestand with a 6:30 p.m. game on Saturday against Peoria at Community Field.