CLINTON — Clinton LumberKings catcher James Alfonso drove in the first and final runs almost five hours apart Saturday night.
Alfonso entered the weekend with a 15-game hitting streak (including last season), but entering extra innings, the LumberKings catcher was 0-for-4.
Alfonso hit a dribbler up the middle scoring Braden Bishop in the 18th inning that gave Clinton a 2-1 win over Cedar Rapids — in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Ashford University Field.
Saturday’s 18-inning game was the longest Clinton has played since the 2010 Midwest League Championship Series when the LumberKings defeated Lake County in 19 innings to even that series at 1-1. It is the longest regular-season game that the LumberKings have played since 1998.
That was also part of a doubleheader, when Clinton won 4-2 in June 30, 1998, over Burlington in 19 innings. Game 1 lasted 13 innings.
Over 500 pitches were thrown in the 18-inning game on Saturday.
The LumberKings had a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, but Cedar Rapids shortstop Jermaine Palacios came through with a single to right-center field, scoring Manuel Guzman to tie the game.
The Kernels and LumberKings were scheduled to play two seven-inning games Saturday. The second one did go just seven innings, and Clinton won that one, too, 3-0.
Alfonso kept the hitting streak alive, and that hit essentially helped the LumberKings take three out of four games from Cedar Rapids. The Kernels won Sunday's series finale 9-0.
“The first couple at-bats, I was struggling a little bit, so I just kind of tried to clear my head,” Alfonso said. “Really, my last three at-bats, I saw the ball better.”
It wasn't the first time Alfonso has driven in the game-winning run. The former University of Hartford player also drove home the go-ahead run with sacrifice fly in 10th inning on April 18 at Peoria.
Alfonso ended up with a 3-for-7 night, with his first hit coming in the 14th inning on a single. He also singled in in 16th inning after his first-inning sacrifice fly.
"The big thing, also, was Bishop getting the double out of the box," LumberKings Manager Mitch Canham said. "A lot of good things happen when you drive the ball to the middle."
Alfonso was in the squat behind the plate for all 18 innings, but Arturo Nieto caught the final 16 innings of the weekend series.
"That was the longest game I think I've ever had to catch," Alfonso said. "That's probably a first."
Nick Kiel picked up the win for Clinton in a much-needed four-inning outing that avoided any position players from seeing time on the mound.
Kiel allowed two hits and one walk while also striking out four.
"He really battled for us," Alfonso said. "He always commands the ball well. He was great for us. He mixes well and gets hitters off balance."
Clinton used six pitchers in the marathon.
The game could have ended in the 13th inning when Bishop hit a ground ball to Kernels Palacios. The throw from Palacios pulled Zander Wiel off first base, allowing Aaron Barbosa to score and give the LumberKings what appeared to be a walk-off victory.
However, umpires Mac Dietz and Jesse Gonzalez talked about the play and decided Wiel stayed on the bag long enough to get Bishop for the out.
"It's the two guys who are able to get the best call," Canham said. "From my side, it was obviously hard to tell. It was nice to see the guys continue to battle."
Barbosa returned to Clinton only to experience another peculiar game that involved the LumberKings.
Barbosa, who was sent to Clinton just before Saturday's doubleheader, arrived shortly before first pitch but had to wait to enter the marathon game.
"I woke up at 4 a.m. in Phoenix, and took a couple flights to get to the Quad-Cities," Barbosa said. "Drove right here, and barely made it for the first pitch. It's just a grind for all of us, not just me. I just tried to keep things simple."
Barbosa came into pinch run in the 13th inning and reached third base in that inning. He was the only player on the weekend roster who also appeared in the 2014 comeback classic at Burlington.
So, which was crazier?
"Probably (the 20-17 game)," Barbosa said. "That's a little more improbable."
Cedar Rapids came back Sunday and forced Clinton starter Zack Littell to allow six runs (two earned) in six innings in the 9-0 win to avoid a sweep.
Wiel was a homer short of the cycle Sunday, while Clinton's Dalton Kelly picked up his first triple of the season.
"It was very encouraging," Cedar Rapids Manager Jake Mauer said. "I thought we swung the bats better. We didn't get beat by many fastballs, and we had a hard time last night all the way around."
See video of James Alfonso's game-winning hit from Saturday night at clintonherald.com.