Crooked Numbers: Stockton-Modesto

Interim Ports manager suspended among quirky finishes

By Benjamin Hill / | July 12, 2012 1:26 PM ET

Maybe there's something in the water?

This season's first edition of Crooked Numbers began with a strange tale out of Stockton, as an April 15 game between the hometown Ports and visiting Modesto Nuts was delayed on account of a massive swarm of bees briefly overtaking the playing field.

Then, on June 23, came a Ports vs. Nuts occurrence that was arguably even stranger: interim Ports manager Todd Steverson (filling in for a vacationing Webster Garrison) ordered a series of intentional balks in a game eventually won by Modesto in 18 innings. Steverson later admitted that he was trying to end the ballgame. He was suspended from California League dugouts for a year as a result.

This was no case of Eight Men Out-style game-fixing, however. Though his methods are debatable, Steverson was merely trying to bring a farcical ballgame to a merciful end. Both teams had resorted to using position players on the mound after depleting their bullpens, and in the bottom of the 17th inning, Ports outfielder-turned-moonlighting pitcher Josh Whitaker issued a one-out walk to Kyle Parker. At this point Steverson ordered Whitaker to issue a pair of consecutive balks, bringing Parker to third, but yet the Nuts still failed to score.

Jared Clark, who started the game at first base and ended up as the winning pitcher, struck out, and then Jayson Langfels popped up to send the game to the 18th. After the Ports failed to score in the top of the frame, Whitaker retook the mound and gave up a lead-off single to Dustin Garneau. Steverson issued another balk, advancing Garneau to second, and then finally, mercifully, Helder Velazquez came through with a walk-off single.

When all was said and done, the game had taken a whopping 305 minutes to play and featured a combined 30 strikeouts, 22 walks, and 21 hits. By the time the final out was made, only several hundred fans remained out of what had been originally been a sellout crowd of 4,781. And, in the process, a roving instructor turned moonlighting manager received a year-long league suspension.

Only in Minor League Baseball, folks. Only in Minor League Baseball.

Even more position players pitching! The Norfolk Tides and Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees played back-to-back doubleheaders on June 2 and 3, so when the following afternoon's ballgame went into extra-innings, the always tantalizing prospect of position players pitching loomed large. Backstop Ryan J. Baker was the first to appear on the mound, entering in the 12th and eventually earning the win on the strength of his two scoreless innings of work. The loss went to infielder Carlos Rojas, who allowed Jack Cust's second home run of the day that, mercifully, helped end the contest in 13 innings.

Workin' overtime

On June 2, 29 innings of baseball was all in a day's work for the Trenton Thunder and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. And, by night's end, the Thunder had earned themselves a doubleheader sweep. They won the first game of the twinbill by a score of 3-2 in 14 innings. The nightcap then went 15 frames, with the Thunder pulling out a 6-5 victory.

Touch 'em all! (Or suffer the consequences): This season's strangest ending to a game occurred in Helena on June 25, when what should have been a game-tying, 10th-inning home run for the hometown Brewers instead turned into a game-ending putout at the plate. From the game recap:

"With Helena down, 2-0, and a man on with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, [Raul] Mondesi Jr. hit one over the center-field wall to tie the game. But he didn't step on home plate. [Missoula] Osprey manager Andy Green appealed and Mondesi was called out to end the game."

Mondesi's misstep was caused in no small part by poor sportsmanship. Tempers had flared between the Brewers and Osprey earlier in the game, and as Mondesi rounded the bases he taunted the opposing players.

"It was crazy," said pitcher Andrew Barbosa, who started the game for the Osprey. "[Mondesi] hits a home run, he's taunting a little bit running around the bases and then he steps over the plate. Our catcher, Michael Perez, saw it and waited for him to go in the dugout. He appealed it, the ump saw it, too, and he called him out."

The whole sequence of events led to Mondesi being credited with a triple, despite the fact that said hit cleared the center field fence -- per the game log. Mondesi vows renewed discipline as a result of the incident.

Anomalous ending, part II: Mondesi and crew certainly had some competition in the strange conclusions department, however. The Lynchburg Hillcats and Frederick Keys played a doubleheader on June 9, and the first game ended on a most unusual caught stealing. The Keys had runners on first and third with two outs when Aaron Baker, the runner on first, broke for second. Batter Scott Thomas tipped the pitch back into the catcher's glove and Baker, thinking it was a foul ball, casually walked back toward first. He was then chased down and tagged out, ending the ballgame.

Masters of efficiency: Both starting pitchers went the distance in a June 12 game between the Arkansas Travelers and the Springfield Cardinals, which required just one hour and 54 minutes to complete. Arkansas' John Hellweg took the loss, allowing four runs in eight innings, while Springfield's Seth Maness yielded a run over nine frames and threw just 84 pitches.

This was just the 13th "double" complete game in the Minors since 2005, and the first in the Texas League during that span.

Wild! Ballgames don't get much uglier than the Rancho Cucamonga Quake's 15-8 victory over the Lancaster JetHawks on June 3, as five Lancaster pitchers combined to issue 10 walks and hit five batters. The most ignominious pitching line belonged to Greg Wilborn, who allowed four runs on three hit batters, two walks and two wild pitches while retiring just two batters.

Wilder! Though the final score was pedestrian, the Potomac Nationals' 6-2 victory over the Winston-Salem Dash on June 22 was anything but. Five Dash pitchers combined to issue 13 walks, and of the 178 pitches they combined to throw that evening, only 85 went for strikes.

Wildest! The Lansing Lugnuts' 13-6 victory over the Great Lakes Loons on June 24 included a nine-run fifth inning, and in that inning Loons pitchers issued an agonizing seven consecutive walks. Four runs had already scored in the inning when the control troubles began. With a runner on first and two outs, Jose Dominguez walked four batters in a row. Juan Rodriguez then came in and walked three more (all of them scoring a run that was charged to Dominguez). A ground out then finally, mercifully, ended the inning, but Rodriguez wasn't quite done. He returned to the mound in the bottom of the sixth and promptly walked the first two batters he faced in that inning as well.

Breakout! Missoula's Daniel Pulfer went hitless over his first five games of the season, and Game No. 6 against Helena on June 27 started off in similarly frustrating fashion. Pulfer went hitless over his first two at-bats of the ballgame, and both of those outs were made within Missoula's seven-run first inning. It was all uphill from there, however, as Pulfer went on to hit for the cycle in the ballgame. He tripled in the third, singled in the fifth, homered in the sixth and doubled in the seventh.

Wait...what? This little nugget, courtesy of Oklahoma City RedHawks broadcaster and long-time "Crooked Numbers" contributor Alex Freedman, is for the scorekeeping nerds out there. The RedHawks defeated Reno by a score of 10-9 on May 20, and in the ballgame Xavier Cedeno was awarded a hold despite appearing before winning pitcher David Carpenter.

How is this possible? I'd try to explain, but it would take me at least 200 words and most people would still be confused. So let's just say "scorer's discretion" and call it a day.

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

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