Crooked Numbers: Revisiting Merkle

Baserunning blunders, trainer ejection among July oddities

Santiago Nessy didn't commit the only baserunning rarity this month. (Scott Mapes, Lansing Lugnuts)

By Benjamin Hill / | August 2, 2013 10:26 AM ET

Since its inception in 2005, this very website has published thousands upon thousands of game recap stories. But it wasn't until this month that the word "Merkle-esque" was incorporated into a headline.

Yes, "Merkle-esque" as in Fred Merkle, the erstwhile New York Giant whose baserunning blunder became the stuff of legend. In a 1908 contest against the Chicago Cubs, Merkle negated what appeared to be a Giants victory when he was forced out at second base after what all had assumed was a walk-off base hit. July's "Merkle-esque" moment took place on the first of month in a game between the Lansing Lugnuts and visiting Great Lakes Loons, with Lansing's Santiago Nessy playing the role of Merkle.

I'll now turn the floor over to Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, who provided the following elegant yet succinct summary of what transpired:

Tie game, 4-4, bottom of the ninth. Two outs. Bases loaded. 3-2 count.

Chris Hawkins grounds one up the middle into center. Dwight Smith scores from third. Celebrate!

Ah, but the runner at first base, Santiago Nessy, goes nearly two-thirds of the way to second, then turns around and parties with his bouncing teammates.

Loons center fielder James Baldwin gets the ball in, they tag second base and appeal for the force.

[Great Lakes manager] Razor Shines pleads with the umpires. The Loons leave the field. The umpires confer. The Lugnuts head back to the clubhouse.

The umpires decide, with the most embarrassed body language you can imagine, "Yup, it's a force play at second base." Time to go to the 10th inning.

End scene.

Post-script: The Loons score in the top of the 10th and hold on for a 5-4 victory.

One-base blast: Since we're on the topic of embarrassing baserunning blunders, let's take a look at what transpired July 19 between the Greensboro Grasshoppers and visiting Charleston RiverDogs. Per RiverDogs broadcaster Derek Diesner:

In a wacky bottom of the ninth, Viosergy Rosa would lead off with a single. Following Rosa's single, Jesus Solorzano homered … and due to the fly ball, Rosa held his position between first and second base. Solorzano passed Rosa on the basepath and because of that, Solorzano was ruled out. Rosa was able to round the bases for one run, [while] Solorzano only received a single and RBI on the play due to his baserunning gaffe.

Solorzano represented the first out of the frame, and the Grasshoppers managed to push across one more run before losing by a final score of 7-5.

Swing and a miss? July 1's game between Lansing and Great Lakes (you know, the game I was talking about at the beginning of the column) was the walk-off that wasn't, while July 10's game between Charleston and Greenville was the walk-off that perhaps shouldn't have been. Again I'll defer to a Charleston broadcaster, this time Mr. Sean Houston:

With runners at the corners and two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Dante Bichette Jr. swung at a pitch and missed, the ball got away from Greenville catcher Jordan Weems and scored Jackson Valera from third to win the game. The ball appeared to hit Bichette's bat on the backswing, and the play was argued vehemently by the coaches and players from the Drive. But, in the end the call stood and the RiverDogs knocked off the Drive, 3-2.

Double-A Rod: Alex Rodriguez hasn't been in the news much lately, but this column might help to rectify that. The once and perhaps future Yankees slugger began a rehab stint with the Trenton Thunder on July 15 and hit a home run in the fifth inning. This marked his first long ball at the Double-A level since June 16, 1994, when, at the age of 19, he went yard in his first-ever at-bat as a member of the Jacksonville Suns. Despite a diligent effort by the ace Crooked Numbers research team, it is unknown if A-Rod's 19-plus years between Double-A homers is a new record. For the sake of keeping A-Rod in the public eye, let's just assume that it is.

No-no, no-no, no-no: The aforementioned Merkle-esque blunder certainly hasn't been the only recent indignity suffered by the Lansing Lugnuts. Entering the season, the team had been no-hit just one time in their 17-year franchise history. But here in the year 2013 they were no-hit three times over their first 94 games! South Bend's Kyle Schepel threw a seven-inning no-hitter April 14, four Bowling Green hurlers combined for a nine-inning no-hitter June 21, and then on July 17, Clinton's Victor Sanchez threw a nine-inning gem. records only date back to 2005, but no Minor League team in that time has been no-hit three times in a season. And for an even greater sense of perspective, consider that no team in the history of Major League Baseball has ever been no-hit that many times in the course of a season.

Tri-City fact flurry! There's nothing like a no-hitter to bring out the factoids, as evidenced by the email I received from Tri-City broadcaster Chris King after his Dust Devils pitched a combined no-hitter against Salem-Keizer on July 20. Did you know that, in the history of the Northwest League, this was the 39th no-hitter, the 18th nine-inning no-hitter, the first since 2009 and the only one to feature four pitchers? You didn't? Well, how about this? Did you know this was the second time that a Rockies affiliate threw a Northwest League no-hitter, the second no-hitter in the history of the Dust Devils and the first time that Salem-Keizer had ever been no-hit? No? Well, surely you are aware that Tri-City professional baseball teams have now thrown eight no-hitters, beginning with Joseph Drotar of the Tri-City Braves tossing a seven-inning gem against Wenatchee on June 14, 1958. I mean, everybody knows that.

Thanks for refreshing our memories, Chris!

Altoona Curve fact flurry! The Altoona Curve are currently six games under .500, sitting in the cellar of the paradoxical Eastern League Western Division. But just because their season has been unremarkable on the whole doesn't mean that memorable moments haven't occurred therein. Quite the contrary! The Curve, now in their 15th season, have set or tied a veritable bevy of franchise records. Allow me, or, more accurately, Curve broadcaster Mike Passanini, to enumerate.

On the Field records we've set/tied this season:

2nd no-no in franchise history: 7/25/13 @ New Hampshire

Alex Dickerson's eight RBI tie a franchise-best: 7/26/13 @ New Hampshire

Longest nine-inning game: 3:55 on May 26 vs. Richmond

Most runs allowed: 20, 5/26 vs. Richmond (set the record)

Most runs allowed (inning): 9, 5/26 vs. Richmond

Most hits allowed (game): 22, 5/26 vs. Richmond

Most strikeouts (team batting) in a nine-inning game: 17 on May 2 vs. Akron (set record)

Oh, and lest we forget: Andrew Lambo hit the first cycle in team history April 9, and, just prior to the season, the Curve set an all-time attendance mark at People's Natural Gas Field when 10,116 fans showed up for an exhibition game against the Pirates.

ZZ tops: Longtime readers of this column, of which there are several, know that position players are prone to taking the mound during particularly grueling Minor League contests. They also know that I will do my utmost to document the most notable of these instances.

This month, the most impressive position player to pitch was catcher Zach Zaneski of the Frisco RoughRiders. Facing Corpus Christi, Frisco came back from a seven-run deficit and tied the game at 7-7 after nine innings, and this was the score when Zaneski came on in the 13th. The moonlighting backstop tossed three scoreless frames, scattering two hits and a walk in the process, before giving way to right fielder Chih-Hsien Chang in the 16th. Chang recorded two outs in the frame, but a passed ball allowed Erik Castro to score the game's winning run.

Meanwhile, a special "position players pitching" mention goes to utility man Matt Weaver of the Lynchburg Hillcats, who, sources report, threw upward of 95 mph while pitching in a blowout loss against Carolina on July 10.

A triple-header of sorts: Another exemplary position player pitching performance occurred July 12 as second baseman Ryan Dent hurled two scoreless innings and earned the win as the Portland Sea Dogs defeated the Binghamton Mets by a score of 8-5 in 15 innings. The five-hour marathon ended after midnight, and the two teams played a doubleheader the next evening. This means that, yes, Portland and Binghamton had three games conclude over the course of July 13 alone.

The best, even at his worst: Somewhat shockingly, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 20-inning, 2-1 victory over Toledo did not feature any position players pitching. But it did feature an anomaly in that the only player not to reach base in the ballgame, Toledo's Avisail Garcia, went 0-for-9 and still ended the evening with a .385 average. This was some 46 points higher than anyone else who appeared in the ballgame, with the runner-up being yet another A. Garcia. That would be Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Adonis, who went 3-for-9 to slightly lower his average to a robust .339.

An arachnid's silent wrath: On July 24, iconic AquaSox trainer Spyder Webb was thrown out of the ballgame, a feat that leads to one simple question: how does a trainer manage to get thrown out of a game? For the answer, we turn to the fine reportage to be found in the Everett Herald:

The incident stemmed from the final out of the bottom of the fifth, when Everett's Michael Faulkner was called out at first despite Tri-City first baseman Patrick Hutcheson seemingly being pulled off the bag by the throw.

Then in the top of the sixth, Webb was leaning against the fence in the Everett dugout with his arms apart, which was interpreted by field umpire Jeff Gorman as Webb indicating the distance he thought Hutcheson was off the bag. Gorman shouted at Webb to put his hands down, and when Webb didn't Gorman gave him the boot. Webb, who described it as a silent ejection as he never uttered a word, then came out of the dugout to exchange words with Gorman before departing.

Webb received the full support from the crowd at Everett Memorial Stadium. Several fans held their hands in the air for much of the remainder of the inning, then raised them again every time Gorman was involved in a close call.

And then the kicker, which is certainly worthy of further exploration:

Webb estimated it was the seventh or eighth time he's been ejected during his 35 years in the Northwest League.

But Wait! There (Will Be) More! For even more "Crooked" content, head to Ben's Biz Blog. A pithy post of succinct yet endlessly fascinating "Crooked Nuggets" will be posted Monday, Aug. 5.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for 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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