Crooked Numbers: Strange September

Playoff clinching scenarios provide real plethora of surprises

Sawyer Carroll hit a walk-off single to win a 20-inning playoff game. (Shawn E. Davis/

By Benjamin Hill / Special to | September 26, 2011 6:12 AM

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.

Play with Blazing speed: When the last game of the season has no bearing on the standings, chances are that all involved will do their best to make it a quick affair. That was certainly the case with the season finale between Bakersfield and visiting High Desert, which was played in one hour and 39 minutes. The Blaze batters set the tone, swinging at each of the first 13 pitches offered by High Desert starter Taylor Stanton. But it was High Desert who prevailed, sprinting to a 10-0 victory.

Speak softly and carry the same stick: Seeking to lighten the mood on the last day of the season, the playoff-bound Quad Cities River Bandits used the same bat for the entire ballgame (with the lone exception of left fielder Mike O'Neil, who was taken out in the fifth inning). The shared lumber certainly was not a detriment to offensive success as the River Bandits coasted to a 9-3 win over Peoria.

Fortuitous circumstances: On the last day of the season, the Richmond Flying Squirrels needed a win against the Altoona Curve to secure a spot in the Eastern League playoffs. The game was tied, 1-1, in the top of the eighth, when Richmond's Wes Hodges hit a home run to right field that just barely stayed fair and just barely cleared the right field fence. It was the team's last swing of the season; a rain delay ensued and the game wasn't resumed.

Under normal circumstances, Hodges' home run wouldn't have counted unless the game was resumed and played to completion (or at least until the Curve had gotten the chance to bat in the bottom of the eighth). But these weren't normal circumstances. The Squirrels were declared the winner of the truncated contest, under this line of rulebook reasoning:

Rule 4.12, (b), (4): Any suspended game not completed prior to the last scheduled game between the two teams during the championship season shall become a called game. If such game becomes a called game and has progressed far enough to become a regulation game, and one team is ahead, the team that is ahead shall be declared the winner.

Thanks to this little-known rule, the Flying Squirrels snuck into the playoffs based on what then became a half-game advantage over the Bowie Baysox. (The Squirrels finished at 76-66, the Baysox at 75-66.)

Less-than-fortuitous circumstances: The Greenville Drive won their final game of the season by a score of 11-5 over Hickory, putting them in good position to make their third straight trip to the playoffs. All they needed at that point was for the Augusta GreenJackets to lose their game against Rome or for the Savannah Sand Gnats to win just one game of their doubleheader against Lexington. Neither scenario occurred. Augusta achieved a 3-2 come-from-behind victory, and after a three-hour rain delay, Lexington eked out a pair of one-run wins against the Sand Gnats. If even one of these games had been cancelled due to weather, Greenville would have made it to the postseason.

The pain of one brings pleasure to many: No player ever enjoys striking out four times in one game, but Luis Valbuena of the Columbus Clippers sure picked a good time to do it. In Sept. 5's season-concluding contest against the Toledo Mud Hens, Valbuena was designated the "Toft's Ice Cream Strikeout Player of the Game." So after each and every time he whiffed, a section of Toledo's Fifth Third Field received complimentary frozen treats.

Free baseball, and plenty of it: The Yakima Bears compete in the short-season Northwest League, but nevertheless managed to play 12 extra-inning games over the course of their 76-game schedule. That was the most extra-inning games in the Northwest League since at least 2005, and exceeded the number played by 53 full-season clubs. The Bears' extra-inning pace was especially torrid in the beginning of the season, as they went beyond the ninth frame in seven of their first 22 games (including three in a row against Boise from July 4-6).

But playing in extra innings at an even greater rate were the Norfolk Tides, who did so in 23 of their 143 contests (going 8-15 overall). From May 28-31, the club played in four consecutive extra-inning games, two against Columbus and two more against Pawtucket.

Deserving a special mention as well are the Portland Sea Dogs, the only full-season club in all of Minor League Baseball not to win an extra-inning game. The Eastern League stalwart played in six such contests, coming up short in each and every one.

Let's play (the equivalent of more than) two: The Texas League has been in existence for over 100 years, but it took until this month for a playoff game to last 20 innings. This prodigious blast of postseason baseball came courtesy of the San Antonio Missions and visiting Arkansas in Game 2 of the Championship Series. The Missions emerged victorious in the 369-minute contest, thanks to Sawyer Carroll's two-out RBI single.

Pig Outs: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs enjoyed what was by far their most successful season in franchise history, not only recording their first winning season but also making it all the way to the International League Finals. But in that final series, a four-game loss to the Columbus Clippers, their hitting left much to be desired. Brandon Moss collected three hits with runners in scoring position over the course of the series, but the rest of the team combined to go an anemic 1-for-34 (and even that hit was a bunt single that didn't result in a run).

Land of no opportunity: The Lowell Spinners scuffled to a 29-45 record in 2011, finishing last in the New York-Penn League's Stedler Division. Those losing ways resulted in just 11 save opportunities, and of those, the club converted just seven. That was easily the fewest saves in the league -- second-to-last Aberdeen notched 12 despite winning just 24 games -- as well as the fewest recorded in Spinners franchise history. (The previous mark of 10 was held by the 1999 club.) The seven saves were recorded by four Spinners hurlers; Michael McCarthy led the way with four.

Making 'em count: The Arkansas Travelers made it to the Texas League Finals this season, despite finishing with a losing record (68-69). The last club on the circuit to achieve this somewhat dubious feat were the very same Travelers, who won the 2008 championship despite a massively underwhelming overall record of 62-78. That season, the team won the first-half title with a 36-34 record and then collapsed in the second half before rallying in the postseason.

At home on the road? Or vice versa? This season, the Jupiter Hammerheads played 10 road games at their home ballpark. This oddity is largely explained by the fact the team shares Roger Dean Stadium with the division rival Palm Beach Cardinals, and the teams play 18 games against one another each season (the aptly named "Fins and Feathers" series). The 10th road game at home was the result of a late-season rainout in Fort Myers, with the makeup game being played at Roger Dean Stadium instead.

Prince assumes the throne: Joseph Terdoslavich of the Lynchburg Hillcats made news on the last day of the season, when he hit his 52nd double to establish a new Carolina League record. But history was also made that day by Myrtle Beach's Jared Prince, who tied the Carolina League mark for getting hit by a pitch when he was plunked for the 30th time. Prince was only hit three times over his first 46 games, but then proceeded to take one for the team 27 times over his final 85 appearances.

Day in, day out: Only two members of a full-season club appeared in each and every one of their team's games this season: New Britain's Chris Parmelee (now with the Twins) and Winston-Salem's Ian Gac. Gac became the first player in the Carolina League since at least 2005 to appear every ballgame.

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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