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Crooked Numbers: LumberKings' epic rally

Francoeur continues mound mastery, but Bergman gets no support
June 4, 2014

On May 8, the Clinton LumberKings mounted a comeback over the Burlington Bees, one so improbable that the usual adjectives do not apply. Colossal doesn't cut it, nor does monstrous, titanic or even gargantuan.

Therefore, this edition of Crooked Numbers will begin with a nod to master satirist Jonathan Swift, whose classic novel Gulliver's Travels features a super-sized race of people known as Brobdingnagians. That seems to be the only word that applies to the situation at hand, so let's try this again: On May 8, the Clinton LumberKings mounted a Brobdingnagian comeback over the Burlington Bees.

Down by a score of 17-1 after five innings, the LumberKings scored 19 unanswered runs en route to a 12-inning, 20-17 victory. By comparison, the largest comeback in Major League history is a comparatively Lilliputian 12 runs, accomplished by the Tigers in 1911 and the Indians in 2001.

Our records here at headquarters only date back to 2005, but in that time the largest comeback in Minor League Baseball prior to Clinton's uprising was 11 runs (accomplished by Fresno in 2013 and Albuquerque and Sacramento in 2010). In the Midwest League, in which the LumberKings reside, the largest recorded comeback was a paltry nine runs (accomplished by Cedar Rapids in 2010 and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2005).

To pull off their 16-run comeback, the visiting LumberKings scored six runs in the sixth inning, five in the eighth and another five in the ninth to tie the game at 17-17. That ninth inning was highlighted by a one-out grand slam from Marcus Littlewood, which knotted the score. In the top of the 12th, Justin Seager hit an RBI groundout to finally break the tie and the next batter, Lonnie Kauppila, laced a two-run single to give the 'Kings a 20-17 cushion.

That hit gave Kauppila some breathing room as the second baseman then took the mound in the bottom of the 12th and retired the Bees in order, earning a save in the process. When all was said and done, the LumberKings had recorded 22 hits in the game. Every player in the starting line-up hit safely and scored a run, and eight recorded at least one RBI. Not bad for a team that only mustered five hits and one run through the game's first five innings!

Position Players Pitching -- an FSL of a Good Time

Since the LumberKings' Brobdingnagian comeback included an instance in which a position player pitched, we'll now move on to yet more examples in which position players pitched. After all, this is one of the most revered topics in the Crooked Numbers canon.

May's top position player to take the mound was moonlighting backstop Wes Wilson, who hurled four shutout frames on May 16 and earned the win as his Tampa Yankees eked out a 7-6, 18-inning victory over the Palm Beach Cardinals. Wilson allowed one hit and faced the minimum of 12 batters over his four innings of work, but he wasn't alone in his heroics. Bruce Caldwell, who started the game at third base for Palm Beach, matched Wilson with scoreless frames of his own in the 15th, 16th and 17th innings before finally cracking in the 18th. Caldwell took the loss, evening his record at 1-1 on the season (he earned a win against Fort Myers on May 2).

A tip of the cap must go to Charlotte Stone Crabs catcher Jake DePew, who pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings of his own on May 23 against Lakeland. From the recap:

"DePew scattered seven hits over 3 1/3 scoreless frames to earn the win as Class A Advanced Charlotte outlasted Lakeland, 5-3, in 19 innings at Joker Marchant Stadium.

"The 22-year-old backstop entered the game with two outs in the 16th inning and allowed two hits -- all singles -- in each of the final three innings. DePew, who said he last pitched as a senior in high school, kept his repertoire simple...."

The Francoeur Files

The previous edition of this column began with the strange saga of Major League veteran Jeff Francoeur, who made three pitching appearances for the El Paso Chihuahuas during the month of April. Well, April was no anomaly as Francoeur made another three pitching appearances during the month of May! The 30-year-old took to the hill against the Fresno Grizzlies on May 9 and Las Vegas 51s on May 16 and 28, and in that latter game he was even relieved by catcher Cody Decker (making his debut pitching performance).

Francoeur has gone unscored upon in five of his six appearances but did allow three runs over one inning of work on May 16. Worth noting is the fact that a whopping four of Francoeur's six appearances have now come against Las Vegas; unfortunately, the two teams will not face each other again until July 29.

Aye, Chihuahuas

Speaking of the El Paso Chihuahuas, that fledgling Pacific Coast League franchise has already provided a disproportionate amount of Crooked Numbers fodder. And if there's one thing we here at Crooked Numbers love, it's fodder!

Last month, it was noted that the team tied a PCL record by using nine pitchers in April 22's game against Las Vegas (one of those pitchers was Francoeur, of course). The Chihuahuas tied another PCL record on May 5 when they combined with the Sacramento River Cats to hit three grand slams in one game. Tommy Medica hit a bases-loaded blast in the fourth inning to give the Chihuahuas an 8-6 lead, but Michael Taylor countered with one of his own in the eighth to give the River Cats a 10-9 advantage. No matter, as Jake Lemmerman hit a walk-off grand slam in the ninth to secure a hard-earned 13-10 victory for the Chihuahuas.

Twenty days later, the Chihuahuas and Tacoma Rainiers combined to set what very well could be another PCL record as five pitchers were charged with a blown save in what was an eventual 14-12 Chihuahuas victory. The BS started with the Rainers' Stephen Pryor, who entered with a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning and promptly allowed three runs. Then came the Chihuahuas' Branch Kloess, who allowed two inherited runners to score (and then two of his own) in the seventh as the Rainiers claimed a 9-7 advantage. Tacoma's Carson Smith was the next bullpen casualty, allowing four runs in the eighth as the Chihuahuas jumped to an 11-9 lead. The Rainers scored three in the bottom of the frame to go up by a score of 12-11; two of these runs were charged to Dennis O'Grady as he, too, was credited with a blown save. Zach Miner then took the hill for the Rainiers in the ninth and allowed three runs as the Chihuahuas went up by a score of 14-12. That was blown save No. 5.

Mercifully, Hector Ambriz did not blow his opportunity in the bottom of the ninth. Ambriz pitched a 1-2-3 frame, earning himself a save and, less deservedly, a win for O'Grady. That remains O'Grady's only win of the season, despite the fact that it came in what was, statistically speaking, his worst outing of the year.

No Charity for Christian

Alex Freedman, the Oklahoma City RedHawks' broadcaster and long-time Crooked Numbers contributor, recently got in touch to make sure I was aware of the saga of Christian Bergman. Freedman writes:

"Between May 3 and May 19, Christian Bergman of Colorado Springs made four starts and allowed one run over 30 innings (the run was a solo homer by Domingo Santana on May 13). However, Bergman's record over the four games was 0-1 as Colorado Springs managed to score zero runs during those 30 innings. All four of those games had 1-0 final scores with the Sky Sox winning three of them. (The loss, of course, was to the Oklahoma City RedHawks on May 13).

"Despite not winning any games, Bergman set a Colorado Springs record this month by pitching 24 consecutive innings at home (this streak is still active). On May 8, he pitched eight shutout innings against Nashville as part of what would become the first home game in team history to remain scoreless after nine frames (Colorado Springs won, 1-0, in 13 innings). Then, on May 19 against Memphis, he pitched another eight shutout innings in what was to become the second-ever home game to remain scoreless after nine innings. Colorado Springs won that game by a score of 1-0 as well, this time in 10 innings.

"On the season, Bergman has factored into the decision in all seven of his road starts; he remains 0-0 at home."

But that's not all…

Freedman, a Crooked Numbers cult celebrity, also contributed these notes from the month that was:

Busting out of a slump -- On May 7, a second-inning strikeout by Memphis' Luis Mateo pushed his personal drought to 0 for his last 33. In his next three at-bats during the game, Mateo hit two doubles and a home run. He has one extra-base hit since.

More from May 7 -- Memphis won, 8-1, to end a streak of 10 straight wins by the RedHawks in games that started before noon. Don't worry, though -- they've won the last two to make it 12-of-13 going back to September 2012.

A win, finally -- RedHawks relief pitcher Chia-Jen Lo was the winning pitcher in Oklahoma City's 6-5 win in Nashville on May 16. Not only was it his first win of the season, it was his first win since April 14, 2009! Granted, Lo is a reliever and has dealt with numerous injuries, but he went 115 appearances between the Minors and Majors in between victories. It was just his second career win, and his other win came in just his third career appearance. (Note: Lo has since been released.)

Unusual box score -- The Oklahoma City RedHawks' game in Memphis on May 24 had to be called during the top of the ninth inning due to rain. Thus, the final line score shows an X in the bottom of the ninth, despite the fact Memphis was losing at home. I got a kick out of that.

Thanks to Alex, and thanks to all of the co-workers, broadcasters and eagle-eyed readers who contribute to Crooked Numbers on a regular basis. Stay tuned later in the month for a Crooked Nuggets post on Ben's Biz Blog, detailing many more absurd events that took place in the Minors during the month of May. It's a strange world out there, but somebody's gotta chronicle it!

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.