The Cedar Rapids Kernels rallied for a 3-2 walk-off win in Game 3 of the Midwest League finals, giving them a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series.
One more win will give the Kernels their first championship since 1994, when their team included future big-league catcher Bengie Molina. But don’t write off the West Michigan Whitecaps, who would like to get their first MWL title since 2007.
The series has been dominated by strong pitching and timely hitting, and Saturday’s game was no exception. (Read about the first two games here and here.) Kernels RHP Keaton Steele and Whitecaps RHP Artie Lewicki dueled for seven innings, each giving up only one run.
The most exciting inning offensively was the final one, and not only because of the walk-off hit. The Whitecaps broke through against the Kernels bullpen first, plating a run on Christin Stewart’s RBI single in the top of the 9th.
Down a run in the bottom half, the Kernels didn’t waste time in starting a rally. Edgar Corcino and T.J. White hit back-to-back doubles off reliever Gerson Moreno to lead off the frame, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham responded by bringing in his closer, RHP Joe Jimenez, who posted a 1.47 ERA and 17 saves during the regular season.
Jimenez walked LaMonte Wade and struck out Chris Paul swinging before Max Murphy hit a deep sacrifice fly that scored the tying run.
With two on and two out, Brian Navarreto came to the plate. He hit a slow chopper to third — and the catcher ended up legging out an infield single, allowing White to score the winning run.
In an interesting side note, Navaretto and Jimenez are old friends dating back to when they were small children. Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson wrote about that here.
And, as Metro Sports Report’s S.D. Buhr wrote here, Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was on hand to watch the Minnesota affiliate’s walk-off win.
Game 4 of the championship series will be played Sunday afternoon at Cedar Rapids’ Veterans Memorial Stadium. The pitching match-up will be Whitecaps RHP Jeff Thompson versus Kernels LHP Randy Rosario.
If necessary, Game 5 will be played Monday night at Cedar Rapids.
*All photos by Craig Wieczorkiewicz/The Midwest League Traveler