Crooked Numbers: Keeping baseball weird

On Halloween, a cornucopia of year's off-kilter Minors moments

Salt Lake's Jarrett Parker hit his first homer of the season on April 10, 10 days before he appeared in his first game. (Salt Lake Bees)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | October 31, 2019 10:20 AM

Halloween is, among other things, a celebration of the weird, off-kilter and anomalous. On this day more than any other, nothing is what it seems. In that spirit, it's time for Crooked Numbers. 

Crooked Numbers is, quite simply, a roundup of the weird, off-kilter and anomalous events that occur during a Minor League Baseball season -- and, as followers of this feature over the years are aware, there's always plenty to cover. Keep in mind, Crooked Numbers in no way purports to be authoritative, but it does purport to be fun.

So let's get weird and have some fun.

Position players pitching: Throughout the history of this column, no topic has been more near and/or dear to our hearts than position players pitching. A wide variety of moonlighting backstops, infielders and outfielders intrepidly took the mound in 2019, offering up fluttering knucklers, floating junk and, perhaps most often, fastballs that are anything but. Here are three of many notable instances:

-- Blake Gailen, a 34-year-old outfielder for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers, was added to the active roster for the first time on April 18. He made his season debut in that evening's game against the Omaha Storm Chasers -- as a pitcher. Gailen entered with two outs in the sixth inning, allowing an inherited runner to score as Omaha increased its lead to 12-5. But a funny thing happened (or, rather, a cascading series of funny things). Gailen, tossing a mix of knuckleballs and 75 mph fastballs, held Omaha scoreless over the final three innings. The Dodgers, meanwhile, scored two in the seventh and won the game, 13-12, on the strength of a furious six-run, ninth-inning comeback. Winning pitcher? Blake Gailen. His unlikely exploits went on to serve as the basis for a Forbes Magazine article on the role that preparation plays in successful investing.  

-- On July 25, Baltimore Orioles outfielder Stevie Wilkerson became the first-ever position player to earn a save in a Major League game. He accomplished the feat with an average pitch velocity of 54.3 mph, flummoxing the Angels. But Wilkerson was simply following in the footsteps of Triple-A Iowa outfielder Donnie Dewees, who accomplished the same feat some 24 hours prior. The Cubs took a 5-4 lead over the San Antonio Missions in the top of the eighth inning. Dewees entered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth (he struck out) and switched to the pitcher's mound in the bottom of the frame. It was a move that was made out of a sheer lack of options (Iowa's bullpen was beat up and exhausted), but it worked. Dewees allowed a leadoff single, then dispatched San Antonio's three T's (Travis Shaw, Troy Stokes Jr. and Tyrone Taylor) to earn the save.   

-- The Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies ran roughshod over the Salt Lake Bees on June 23, scoring 14 runs over the final three innings en route to a 22-9 win. The Grizzlies scored three runs in the ninth against moonlighting backstop Roberto Pena, but the remainder were plated while facing actual pitchers (Alex Klonowski took the brunt of it for the Bees, surrendering 14 runs over 2 2/3 frames).

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, ended up using three members of their starting lineup on the mound and four position players overall. Designated hitter Brandon Snyder pitched the fifth and sixth, allowing one run and earning the win. He switched to second base, moving Carter Kieboom to third and third baseman Matt Reynolds to the mound. Reynolds, who went 5-for-6 with four RBIs and four runs scored, allowed two runs in the seventh. He moved to second base, with Snyder shifting to first so first baseman Jose Marmolejos could have a go at toeing the rubber. After allowing a run in the eighth, Marmolejos was replaced by backup catcher Matt Reistetter. Reistetter, making his first appearance in six weeks, allowed three runs in the ninth. Just another day in the Pacific Coast League: four position players combining to pitch five innings in a game their team won by 13 runs. 

Streaking into the past: One of the few bright spots for the Bees' in that June 23 drubbing at the paws of the Grizzlies was Jarrett Parker, who homered in the ninth off Reistetter, the aforementioned moonlighting backstop. This was the seventh straight game in which Parker went yard, except technically it was only the sixth. The Bees and Grizzlies played a doubleheader on June 20 and Parker homered in both the opener and the nightcap. But the first game was the resumption of a contest that had begun on April 10, so it officially went in the record books as having occurred on that date. Parker was on the injured list at the time and didn't make his season debut until 10 days later, but nonetheless. 

38 special: The Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, a complex circuit operating at the lowest rung of the Minor League baseball ladder, ordinarily receives very little media coverage and fan interest. But what happened on July 3 was anything but ordinary, as the DSL Yankees defeated the DSL Twins, 38-2. 

Yes, 38-2. 

After getting shut out in the top of the first inning, the Yankees scored in each of the eight remaining frames. 3+9+6+5+5+6+1+3 = 38. They batted around in five consecutive innings, and all 11 batters who appeared in the game hit safely and scored multiple runs (first baseman Brayan Jimenez led the way with a four hits and seven RBIs). The Yankees accumulated "only" 32 hits but drew 12 bases on balls and took advantage of six Twins errors. 

Per MiLB.com's Rob Terranova, "The Yanks are believed to have broken the all-time Minor League record for runs in a game, set by Rookie Advanced Ogden in a 33-10 Pioneer League romp over Helena on Aug. 27, 1995."

You win some, you lose some: Speaking of bizarre happenings down in complex leagues, a June 26 Gulf Coast League game served as the embodiment of that that ubiquitous "Spider-man pointing at Spider-man" meme. The GCL Phillies tossed a combined no-hitter against their opponent, the (checks notes) GCL Phillies.

This was possible because the Philadelphia organization fields two GCL entities, Phillies East and Phillies West. (For added dissonance, both teams play in the league's North Division). On June 26, four Phillies West pitchers -- Brandon Ramey, Hsin-Chieh Lin, Brian Marconi and Tyler Burch -- did not allow a hit to their East counterparts. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was probably a little confusing.  

The Amazin'(ly old) Mets: Most of the time, Minor League baseball represents a chance to see the future stars of Major League Baseball. Most of the time but not always. On June 11, for example, the Triple-A Syracuse Mets fielded a starting lineup with more than 6,000 games of big league experience and whose average age was greater than any MLB team that played that night. Rehabbing Robinson Cano, 36, represented approximately one third of that MLB experience, but the lineup also included Danny Espinosa (32), Rajai Davis (38), Rene Rivera (35), Tim Tebow (31) and Justin Wilson (31). The only player in the lineup without any prior MLB experience was Tebow, who, of course, has logged time as an NFL quarterback.  

 

Just as good the second time: On multiple occasions this season, Minnesota Twins farmhand Tyler Webb made a great first impression. Chris Kleinhans-Schulz, broadcaster for the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels, sums it all up: 

Just as good the second time: The Class A Greensboro Grasshoppers swept the Lakewood BlueClaws in a May 19 doubleheader, winning by an 8-7 margin in the opener and 6-5 in the nightcap. In both games, Greensboro trailed in its final at-bat. And in both games, Mason Martin hit a walk-off three-run homer. They were the first two walk-off homers of the 19-year-old's career, resulting in a marvelous May day for Mason Martin. 

Video: Greensboro's Martin hits two walk-offs   
Out of order: Keeping on the topic of "moments the 2019 Lakewood BlueClaws would like to forget," let's focus on the Aug. 30 game against the Hagerstown Suns. Hunter Stovall homered for the BlueClaws with two outs in the fourth inning, at which point Hagerstown informed the umpires that Lakewood was batting out of order. Stovall's home run went down in the books as a Ben Pelletier out, as Pelletier was the batter who was supposed to have batted. Stovall, having effectively homered to end the fourth, led off the fifth with a single and was later thrown out at the plate. 

I was there. I even tweeted about it. 

Premature pyro: It's a standard Minor League formula: Play a game, then shoot off fireworks. On two occasions in July, this established sequence was flipped on its head. 

On July 4, the city of Lansing just couldn't wait any longer to start its fireworks display. 

Video: Lansing's Sandlot fireworks moment
Two days later in Akron, a similar situation played out. In this case, the game (against Bowie) was delayed for 15 minutes. 

It's never over: It would be an unforgivable oversight if this column did not include a mention of what was, truly, the most amazing baseball game of 2019. It took place on Aug. 14, with the Class A Advanced Lancaster JetHawks hosting the Lake Elsinore Storm. The JetHawks, buoyed by a nine-run sixth inning, took a 13-3 lead into the ninth. The Storm, down to their last out with a runner on first, began the rally of the century: walk, single, double, walk, walk, walk, single, single, walk, single, single. 

This small ball barrage tied the game at 13-13. It went into extra innings, and the Storm pushed across another run in the 10th. Final score: Lake Elsinore 14, Lancaster 13. 

Never give up.

Video: Lake Elsinore Storm mount epic comeback

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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