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CLINTON — Whether it was showmanship, or whether he really thought there was something nefarious going on, Clinton Manager Mitch Canham asked umpires to check out the glove of Cedar Rapids Kernels starting pitcher Sam Gibbons with two outs in the second inning Sunday night.
They obliged, convening on the mound and asking Gibbons to turn over his mitt. A short inspection ensued, which turned up no foreign substance or anything illegal.
Call it a coincidence, but Clinton went on to score two runs the next inning and four the inning after that to even up the Midwest League Western Division championship series with a 6-1 win at Ashford University Field.
A winner-take-all Game 3 is right back here Monday night at 6:35.
“It’s just kind of odd,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, of the glove check. “It’s not something you normally do in the minor leagues. (Canham) is a new guy, he’s learning. I don’t know what they thought. They’ve got a young staff over there, so they’re still figuring it out. I was hoping our guys would respond a little bit to that, but that wasn’t the case.”
Gibbons wiggled out of trouble in the first inning and got a double-play grounder after a leadoff single in the second. As the next hitter came to the plate, time was called as Canham talked with third-base umpire Jose Matamoros.
Matamoros motioned to Gibbons and the three other umpires walked to the mound. Gibbons gave them his glove, they checked it and play resumed.
He got the next out to end the second but Ricky Eusebio and Rayder Ascanio laced back-to-back leadoff doubles in the third, and Luis Liberato had an RBI single.
Gibbons walked in a run with two away in the fourth, then gave up Chris Mariscal’s bases-clearing double as Clinton put the game away.
“Sometimes you can get real sweaty and wipe the sweat off everywhere,” Canham said. “I noticed that he was touching the back of his glove. It’s a dark glove, and I can’t see anything, but I saw him do it again, so I figured I’d ask ... I wasn’t trying to make a big deal of it, but I wanted to make sure there was nothing on there so he was trying to get extra grip or anything like that.”
“I was cruising through the first two innings,” Gibbons said. “I guess maybe it was to put me off balance or get me thinking about the glove instead of pitching or whatever. I tried not to think about it. It wasn’t that at all (why he struggled).”
Meanwhile, Clinton starting pitcher Kevin Gadea dominated the Kernels. The right-hander from Nicaragua used a mix of low-90s fastballs, changeups and breaking balls to strike out 11 in six innings.
The Kernels’ lone run came only because of a Clinton defensive miscue. Luis Arraez singled sharply to right with two away in the fourth and alertly scampered to third when shortstop Rayder Ascanio and third baseman Logan Taylor miscommunicated on Zander Wiel’s infield roller and allowed it to reach short left field.
Gadea then threw a wild pitch that scored Arraez.
Cedar Rapids struck out 17 times and managed only five singles against Gadea and three relievers.
“I was surprised by how we got overmatched, to be honest with you,” Mauer said. “Watching his stuff, I thought it was average at best. But for whatever reason, we just didn’t see him too good.”
So now the season comes down to a single game for both teams. Right-hander Nick Neidert (7-3, 2.57 earned run average in regular season) will start for Clinton, with righty Sean Poppen (1-1, 2.12 ERA in four games) getting the ball for the Kernels.
Mauer was asked if he contemplated going with 19-year-old lefty Lachlan Wells. He started Game 1 of the MWL division semifinals against Wisconsin last week and has been C.R.’s best starter.
The Kernels have been going with a six-man rotation all season, so starters have had five days rest. Wells would have been going on four.
“That’s probably not fair to him. He’s a young kid,” Mauer said. “Tomorrow is a big game, but it’s not big enough to where we will take the chance of hurting one of our best prospects. We’d like to see him out there. Maybe when he’s 25 or 26. But being 19, we’re not going to do it.”
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