In August, much to their chagrin, a pair of Eastern League hurlers helped to familiarize us with one of the rarest terms in the baseball lexicon: the walk-off intentional walk.
This rare happenstance, which can also be referred to as the more pithy but less accurate "intentional walk-off," occurred twice in a 16-day span within the venerable Double-A circuit. On Aug. 16, in game two of a doubleheader between the New Britain Rock Cats and New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Rock Cats came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning facing a 5-3 deficit. That changed in a hurry, however, as three doubles and a sacrifice bunt knotted the score at 5-5 and chased New Hampshire hurler Randy Boone from the game. Reliever Alan Farina then came on with Eddie Rosario on second and one out, and his first order of business was to intentionally walk fearsome New Britain slugger Miguel Sano.
So far, so good.
However, with Alan Bigley at the plate, Farina uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Rosario to move to third. Sano then stole second base as Bigley went down on strikes for the inning's second out. Designated hitter Reynaldo Rodriguez quickly worked the count to 3-0, at which point the Rock Cats decided to go ahead and intentionally walk him and then try their luck facing the less powerful Nate Hanson. But Hanson ended the game standing in the on-deck circle, as a funny thing happened on the way to walking Rodriguez:
Farina's unfortunate meltdown resulted in the Eastern League's first "walk-off intentional walk" of the season, but it wouldn't be the last.
On Aug. 29, the Reading Fightin Phils came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning locked in an 8-8 tie with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Cody Hall, who wriggled out of a two-on and one-out jam in the eighth, remained on the mound for Richmond. The ninth didn't go as well for Mr. Hall, however, as two singles and a sac bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Richmond then opted to intentionally walk Matt Tolbert to load the bases but -- as you might have guessed -- that bases-loaded situation never quite came to pass. Hall airmailed a wild pitch to the backstop whilst in the process of walking Tolbert, allowing Makiel Franco to scamper home with the game's winning run.
And that, folks, is why teams can't simply declare an intentional walk and then move on to the next batter. You truly never know what might happen along the way.
Know your rulebook: Previous 2013 editions of this column have cited Rules 6.07 and 10.06 as a means to explain seemingly incomprehensible on-field events, and this month it has become necessary to direct your attention to Rule 6.02 (c):
If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter's box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. After the penalty, the batter may take his proper position and the regular ball and strike count shall continue. If the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes have been called, the batter shall be declared out.
Rule 6.02 (c) did indeed come into play during Aug. 1's game between Midland and Corpus Christi, as Midland's Vinnie Catricala managed to strike out on one pitch while leading off the top of the sixth. That pitch was delivered by Nick Tropeano, a slider on the outside corner that umpire Ron Teague called a strike. Catricala, clearly not in accord with this call, stepped out of the box and ignored Teague's instruction to return. Teague then called an automatic strike two and, after Catricala again failed to return to his "proper position," called strike three and sent an incredulous and no doubt incensed Catricala back to the dugout.
One pitch, three strikes, one out. Just another day in Minor League Baseball:
A delay that makes scents: During the 2013 season, Minor League Baseball games were delayed by cats, dogs and, yes, even a wayward "Rally Pig." But no animal wreaked as much on-field havoc as the skunk, as these malodorous mammals struck two more times during the month of August. On Aug. 2, Salem Red Sox left-hander Robby Scott was one out away from securing an 11th-inning victory against the Lynchburg Hillcats when a skunk, no doubt desirous of cheering on the home team, scurried onto the left-field warning track. The last time a skunk ambled on to the field in Lynchburg, a bold member of the visiting bullpen chased the critter away, but this time a member of the Hillcats grounds crew was up to the task, and soon thereafter, Scott closed out the ballgame.
Minor League Baseball's next skunk strike occurred on Aug. 9 in Kane County during the bottom of the eighth inning of a game between the Cougars and visiting Burlington Bees. The skunk entered the playing field from the first-base side, sending the Bees fielders scurrying for cover as members of the grounds crew chased it off of the field.
And speaking of delays: 2013's award for "shortest rain delay" goes to the Connecticut Tigers, as Aug. 3's game against Mahoning Valley was delayed for a mere 13 minutes. The team reports that the tarp was on the field for just five of those minutes.
All in a day's work: Bradenton Marauders closer Robert Kilcrease entered Aug. 11's game against the Charlotte Stone Crabs in a tight spot: runners on first and second and no outs, with his team clinging to a 5-3 lead. Kilcrease, no strategic neophyte, followed standard operating procedure and promptly uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third so that he could set up a standard issue game-ending 9-6-5-9-6 triple play. Here's how it went down, per my MiLB.com colleague Jake Seiner:
"[Jeff] Malm poked a fly ball into shallow right field. … [R]ight fielder Willy Garcia came up with a sliding catch to rob Malm of a base hit.
[Hector] Guevara had taken off from second and was doubled up when Garcia tossed the ball to shortstop Gift Ngoepe. After a moment's hesitation, Ngoepe threw the ball to third at the insistence of catcher Jacob Stallings and [Ashley] Ponce at third base -- both thought [Richie] Shaffer had left the bag early.
Home plate umpire James Rackley and field umpire Clay Park briefly convened to discuss the play, and then Rackley signaled that Shaffer was out at third to end the game."
No fuss, no muss.
Position players pitching! Regular readers of this column know that a month cannot pass without a thorough and enthusiastic roundup of the most notable instances in which position players were, for one reason or another, compelled to take the mound. This month's Position Players Pitching! Award winners are as follows:
Third runner-up: On Aug. 9, Rochester outfielders Jermaine Mitchell and Brian Dinkelman combined to toss three hitless innings during a blowout loss against Norfolk. Mitchell faced the minimum over his two innings of work and then swapped places with right fielder Brian Dinkelman, who promptly tossed a 1-2-3 ninth.
Second runner-up: Infielder Vladimir Frias made his Salem Red Sox debut in a game against the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Aug. 13 and ended up with the ultra-rare box score line of PR-3B-P. The 26-year-old entered as a pinch-runner in the top of the 13th, stayed in the game at third base, and then came on to pitch in the 17th. He hurled a 1-2-3 frame but took the loss after allowing a run with two outs in the 18th.
First runner-up: Trenton Thunder catcher Jose Gil was pressed into pitching duties twice this month, and it was on consecutive nights! The moonlighting backstop pitched a scoreless 14th inning against New Hampshire on Aug. 16 before allowing a two-out RBI single in the 15th and taking the loss. He was back at it again on Aug. 17, this time in a blowout situation: with the Thunder on the short end of a 14-4 deficit, Gil took the mound in the eighth inning and went on to toss a scoreless frame to lower his ERA to an eminently respectable 3.38.
Grand champion: On Aug. 29, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Carolina Mudcats, Lynchburg Hillcats outfielder Matt Weaver hit a solo home run in the third inning, and this proved to be a key run as the two teams were tied at 2-2 after seven innings (doubleheaders in the Minor Leagues only go seven innings, as you well know). Four innings then passed without incident until, with the Hillcats' bullpen depleted, Weaver was called upon to pitch the 12th. He summarily tossed a 1-2-3 frame and the Hillcats plated a run in the bottom of the inning to make Weaver the game's winning pitcher. This marked the fourth time since 2005 in which a position player earned a win in a game in which he had also homered, with the last instance being Northwest Arkansas' Matt Fields on May 11 of this season. That momentous happenstance was, of course, covered in the May edition of this very column.
Dishonorable mention: Matt Hague was a veritable jack of all trades for the Indianapolis Indians this season, but there is a limit to what he can do. Sept. 2's game between the Bats and the Indianapolis Indians had no postseason implications, so -- why not? -- Hague came on to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, tasked with protecting a 5-2 lead. His afternoon on the mound went as follows: single, single, wild pitch, strike out, strike out, RBI walk, walk-off grand slam (by Denis Phipps). As a result, Hague ended the season with a 0-1 record and 67.50 ERA as an ignominious complement to his International League-leading 153 hits.
Bet you've never seen that before: Play-by-play logs and box scores are able to convey startling amounts of information within compact spaces, but once in a while they come up far short in their descriptive abilities. Take Aug. 11's game between the Brooklyn Cyclones and State College Spikes, for example: the Spikes scored a run in the top of third inning on a single and two throwing errors. But, as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork explained, these weren't any old throwing errors:
"Steven Ramos bunted down the first-base line. Starting pitcher Carlos Valdez threw to first and Ramos was called safe. Alex Sanchez thought Ramos was out and went to throw the ball around the infield. His throw went into left field, and Ramos broke for second. Left fielder Jonathan Clark retrieved the ball but overthrew Mazzilli covering second. As the ball headed toward the Cyclones dugout, Ramos started toward third. He then noticed nobody was covering home and headed for the plate. Eddie Rohan came up with the ball after it caromed off the front of the dugout and raced home, but Ramos narrowly beat him, giving the Spikes a 1-0 lead."
Want even more Crooked Numbers content? Then visit Ben's Biz Blog on Wednesday for a jam-packed post featuring the low-down on a dozen more anomalous August and early September occurrences.