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Crooked Numbers: Marathon games05/03/2010 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
The purpose of "Crooked Numbers" is to take a look back at the month that was in the Minors, highlighting some of the curious and absurd incidents that have taken place. Enjoy, and please don't hesitate to get in touch with suggestions.
One 20-inning ballgame deserves another: The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets played a 20-inning ballgame on April 17, a baseball marathon that was repeated four days later by the Kannapolis Intimidators and Rome Braves. Kannapolis broadcaster Josh Ellis witnessed each and every pitch, and he sent along these observations from the Intimidators' 4-3 victory:
The game only took 4:41, an amazing 14 minutes and three seconds per full inning.
And after all that, the two clubs met the following afternoon in a 1 p.m. contest. Rome won, 3-1, in a mercifully speedy two hours and 18 minutes.
Excelling in a new role: The Mobile BayBears and Birmingham Barons played a 17-inning game on April 17, with the BayBears finally eking out a 5-4 win. It's perhaps not surprising that one of the teams involved ended up using position players on the mound. But what is surprising is that it was the team that won! Chris Rahl, who started the game as the BayBears' left fielder, came in to pitch in the 15th inning and tossed a pair of 1-2-3 frames. In the 17th, Rahl swapped places with second baseman Jacob Elmore, who hurled a 1-2-3 inning of his own. In the bottom of the 17th, Elmore helped his own cause by laying down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Tyler Harbin to third. Jake Wald then followed with a game-winning infield single, making Elmore the pitcher of record.
A pitching catcher saves the day: Indianapolis and Louisville played a wild game on April 27. The two teams traded runs in the 13th and 14th innings, and Indianapolis then plated a run in the top of the 15th to take a 7-6 lead. Eric Kratz, who began the evening as the team's starting catcher, came on to pitch the bottom of the inning as part of an effort to save his club's depleted bullpen. The moonlighting backstop was up to the task, as he kept Louisville off the board and earned the save. It is unknown if this feat has ever been accomplished before in the Minors, but it has never occurred in the history of Major League Baseball.
Finding new ways to win: Of all the possible ways to win a ballgame, scoring from second on a wild pitch during an intentional walk has to rank among the least common. But that's what the Delmarva Shorebirds pulled off against Hagerstown on April 19, as Glenn Gibson's wayward offering during an 11th-inning intentional walk to Tyler Kolodny allowed T.J. Baxter to scamper home with the winning run.
No offense needed: Lakewood's Leandro Castro singled in the third inning of April 21's ballgame against Hagerstown and later came around to score. That in-and-of-itself is unremarkable, but Castro plated his run without any of his teammates putting the bat on the ball. He advanced to second and third thanks to a pair of wild pitches, and then scored on a balk. All of this came courtesy of Suns pitcher Jack McGeary, who has not unleashed any other wild pitches this season.
Starting off with a bang: The aforementioned Lakewood BlueClaws sure came out swinging to start the season, scoring eight first-inning runs on Opening Day. The offensive outburst, which included seven hits and two walks, ensured the victory as the 'Claws held on for a 10-7 win over the Asheville Tourists. Asheville starter Wes Musick was the victim of the onslaught, allowing seven runs before being yanked with two outs in the frame. This left him with a 94.50 ERA, which he has since reduced to a far more palatable 6.41.
This month in unorthodox postponements and delays: Rain is boring, especially when compared to some of the outlandish obstacles faced by Minor League teams this month. On April 11 in Bakersfield, the contest between the hometown Blaze and Lancaster JetHawks was postponed when dirt, dust and debris from the parking lot were blown onto the field by winds approaching 40 mph. Ten days later in Potomac, the Nationals and Frederick Keys were forced to suspend play in the seventh inning thanks to a seemingly impenetrable veil of fog that descended upon Pfitzner Stadium.
But the month's strangest delay occurred on April 28 at Kannapolis' Fieldcrest-Cannon Stadium, when a propane gas leak at a concession stand resulted in the evacuation of the facility. The Intimidators and visiting Lakewood were tied at 3-3 in the eighth inning when the evacuation occurred, but the game resumed an hour later after firefighters had dealt with the situation (Lakewood went on to win, 4-3, in 10 frames). As frustrating as the delay must have been, it wasn't all bad. An article in the Salisbury Post noted that "[F]irefighters got an unexpected reward for their efforts. The concession stand operator gave them all the surplus grilled hot dogs and chicken tenders."
Down but not out: Justin Greene of the Winston-Salem Dash scored one of the most improbable runs of the season on April 21, in the top of the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Dash had runners on first and third with two outs when Greene came to the plate, facing Pelicans reliever Yeliar Castro. Here's what happened next, courtesy of a recap on the Dash's website:
"Greene greeted Castro's [3-1] offering with a sinking liner to right field. Adam Milligan dove for the ball, but it bounced past him and rolled all the way to the warning track. Luis Sierra and Drew Garcia easily scored, and Greene was waved around third base by manager Joe McEwing. Greene then tripped himself up halfway between third and home, falling flat on his face and lying there for several seconds.
Unbeknownst to Greene, the relay from right field airmailed the catcher, allowing Greene to eventually stand up and stumble home to score the third run on the crazy play. Greene was credited with a triple and two [RBIs], and he scored on the throwing error by second baseman Yoel Campusano to make it 4-0 Winston-Salem."
No shortcuts allowed: The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Clinton LumberKings faced off on April 12th, and in the fourth inning of the ballgame Clinton's Daniel Carroll flew into a 9-1-4 double play. This is a rare play no matter what the circumstance, but this particular twin-killing was especially convoluted. In a post on his blog "Rattler Radio," Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announcer Chris Mehring described the situation thusly:
"Gabriel Noriega is at first with one out and Daniel Carroll at the plate. On a 2-1 pitch, Noriega was on the move, and Carroll sent a flyball to right-center. The Rattlers infielders momentarily fooled Noriega into thinking that the ball would drop in for a hit. That allowed Franklin Romero to make the catch and throw to second baseman Scooter Gennett with a chance to double Noriega off first base. Gennett's throw, however, went into the stands. The umpires told Noriega to take third base. Noriega got to within about 15 feet of second base and [inexplicably] cut across the grass in front of the base and jogged on to third base without touching second. The Rattlers appealed to second and Noriega was ruled out to end the inning."
Is there anything he can't do? Madison Bumgarner of the Fresno Grizzlies is one of the most-highly touted pitching prospects in the Minor Leagues, but on April 25, he made it into the record books with his bat. The 20-year-old went yard in the third inning of a game against Portland, making him the youngest player in Grizzlies history to hit a homer. And, for good measure, he picked up his first win of the season.
Power outage: The Brevard County Manatees played 21 games in April, and over that span, the team members combined to hit just one home run (so perhaps "combined" isn't the right word). The lone dinger came courtesy of Brock Kjeldgaard, who went yard against Dunedin on April 21.
Power outage II: The Peoria Chiefs ended the month as the only team in Minor League Baseball with an undefeated home record, but they certainly aren't winning games with the long ball. The team hit just four home runs in April, far behind the Clinton LumberKings' Midwest League-leading 23.