INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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That all five of those runs came against relief pitcher Tyler Alexander, well, that was even better.
Rarely do you hear a manager speak with relative glee about an opposing player’s trials and tribulations, but the Kernels skipper wasn’t shy about doing it this time. Even when offered the opportunity to have his comments be off the record.
“Pretty good what happened to him there,” Mauer said.
There’s a history between the Kernels and Alexander, a side-arming lefty who entered the game in the eighth to try and protect a 4-2 lead but gave up a go-ahead, three-run home run to Logan Wade and a couple of following insurance runs. A June 4 game between the teams in Appleton featured six ejections and a bench-clearing incident that cost each club $1,400 in fines from the Midwest League.
Alexander was the starting pitcher, and his two hit batsmen began what turned out to be a rather ugly situation. At least that’s what Mauer and the Kernels believe.
Tanner Vavra and Chad Christensen each were plunked by Alexander in the eighth, Christensen immediately after Wade’s huge hit. Alexander was forced to leave the game a batter later after Mitch Garver smoked him in the right foot/ankle with a vicious comebacker.
Vavra also left the game, replaced defensively for the ninth.
“I had kind of a long at-bat there (before being hit), so I don’t know if he just missed in hard or if he got a little emotional after Logan’s homer. I’m not really sure,” Christensen said, diplomatically. “I’m just happy with the result. Logan had a big hit, he hit me, and I tried to steal second on him, then Garver had a big hit. So if he did throw at me, it came back to bite him.”
“He was the one who started the problem before,” said Mauer, who demonstratively discussed his concerns with Nate Caldwell, the home-plate umpire. Caldwell and base umpire Adrian Gonzalez were, coincidentally, the men in blue for that June 4 game.
If you’re wondering, Cedar Rapids and Wisconsin play a series again here in early August.
“I don’t think he hit Tanner on purpose, but he might have taken a shot at Chad,” Mauer said. “I don’t know. Guy hits a three-run home run in front of him. A little too fishy for me ... The baseball Gods do funny things, man. Things have a funny way of evening out. They take care of themselves most of the time.”
Wade was playing his first game with the Kernels (38-51, 7-12) since going on the disabled list May 7 with a dislocated shoulder, incurred while diving for a grounder. He played 10 rehab games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League before coming back to town Wednesday.
“Playing down in Florida was kind of tough, with the heat and playing during the day,” Wade said. “I’m definitely excited to be back. I wasn’t trying to hit a home run there. I was just trying to hit something hard.”
Wisconsin (46-43, 10-10) scored four unearned runs against newbie starting pitcher Chih-Wei Hu in the first inning, but the Taiwanese right-hander settled down and threw six wonderful innings. Hu, promoted from Rookie-level Elizabethton, gave up just five hits, one after the first.
“Because this was my first game and I just came here, I wasn’t familiar with the hitters and the environment here,” Hu said, with translation help from Dean Lin, who covers professional players from Taiwan for Major League Baseball. “I just have to get used to it.”
Alex Muren got the win in relief, with Dallas Gallant his first save. Gallant missed the first 50 games of the season serving a Major League Baseball-imposed suspension for testing positive for amphetamines while a Kernel last season.
The Kernels hit the road for a series at Clinton this weekend before returning home for a three-game series against Lake County that begins Wednesday.
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