By John Bohnenkamp
The comeback had to start with the bullpen.
What the Burlington Bees got from their relievers in the final five innings of Sunday’s Prospect League home opener against the Clinton LumberKings was nothing but zeros.
What they then got from their offense was plenty of runs.
The Bees rallied from an early eight-run deficit to take a 15-9 win in front of a crowd of 2,097 at Community Field.
Burlington trailed 9-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth innings, but relievers Tom King, Garrett Langrell and Reece Wissinger combined to shut out the LumberKings for the rest of the game.
“I was really proud of our bullpen,” Bees manager Gary McClure said. “To put up five zeros … you’ve got to put up zeros if you want to come back, get the momentum. And we were able to do that.”
“(Coming back from) 9-1, that’s just grinding,” said designated hitter Austin Simpson, who drove in three runs, including the first one in a five-run eighth inning, one of two innings in which the Bees batted around.”
The Bees’ defense was shaky in those first four innings. Starter Marcos Sanchez gave up eight runs — seven of those were earned — and King gave up a run.
But King retired the side in the fifth, Langrell (1-0) pitched out of a sixth-inning jam and struck out four over 2 2/3 innings, then Wissinger closed the game by striking out three in 1 1/3 innings.
“You just don’t win games when you come back if your bullpen doesn’t do the job,” McClure said.
The Bees responded with six runs in the bottom of the fourth. Simpson drove in two runs with a single, and Mason Land, who had four hits and drove in four runs in the game, doubled home two runs.
“Once we get to 9-6, it’s a ballgame again,” McClure said. “And then we made it 9-7.”
The Bees tied the game in the fifth on Lincoln Riley’s two-run double, then took the lead in the sixth when Chase Honeycutt’s single scored Land.
“Pitchers came in, did their job,” Simpson said. “And we made some plays down the stretch, got some hits, big hits, took some walks.”
Clinton manager Jack Dahm was digging through his bullpen trying to find someone to get outs. Cam Anfang gave up three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Hunter Marso gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings. Tyler Stern gave up two runs without recording an out.
STREAKING: Burlington’s Kevin Santiago extending his hitting streak to four games with a first-inning RBI single. Santiago is hitting .333 to open the season. … Bees third baseman Ben Nippolt had his three-game hitting streak snapped.
UP NEXT: The Bees (2-2) and LumberKings (3-1) play a 2 p.m. game in Clinton on Monday.
Photo: Burlington Bees reliever Reece Wissinger throws the final pitch in Sunday’s 15-9 win over Clinton. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)