Two outs in the ninth. Down 10 runs. Most of the fans already departed. Things were looking bleak for the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm against the JetHawks on Aug. 14 in Lancaster.The historic comeback that ensued defied odds, and the eyes of everyone there.
Two outs in the ninth. Down 10 runs. Most of the fans already departed. Things were looking bleak for the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm against the JetHawks on Aug. 14 in Lancaster.
The historic comeback that ensued defied odds, and the eyes of everyone there.
With the score at 13-3, the fateful frame began innocently enough. Jalen Washington popped out. Allen Córdoba singled, then Xavier Edwards flied out to left field to put the JetHawks one out from an easy victory.
Storm manager Tony Tarasco, a former Major Leaguer, had been in situations like this before. When facing a lopsided loss, he uses the last few innings to continue teaching and developing his players, making sure that an ugly defeat doesn't turn into a streak.
"I actually started to move around the dugout a little bit," Tarasco said. "I was on the other end of the dugout talking to Gabriel Arias. We were just standing around watching the ballgame and talking baseball and things were going on. We scored a couple of runs and we would clap and shake the guys' hands. It was still a pretty big deficit."
Things were starting to happen on the field, though. With the score at 13-6 and Eguy Rosario on second, Tirso Ornelas and Olivier Basabe drew back-to-back walks. Jeisson Rosario won a seven-pitch battle for a third straight walk, making it 13-7.
"The thought was that as the inning went along, because the lead was so big, you kind of felt that the last out inevitably would come, no matter what the score was, no matter if it was 13-5 or 13-6 or 13-8," said Lancaster radio broadcaster Jason Schwartz. "It was kind of a matter of how close were they going to make it before they get the final out."
But the Storm kept coming. Washington, who had made the first out of the inning, singled to drive in two runs. Cordoba plated another with a base hit past shortstop. Edwards walked to load the bases yet again.
Gameday box score
Tarasco, by now fully engaged with the proceedings on the field, knew that the miraculous had become a real possibility.
"When we got within two or three runs," he said, "you just started to see things happen. Balls were falling. Guys were battling. I think it was eight batters that had a two-strike count and were down to the last pitch."
"I counted at least 15 pitches with two out and two strikes," Schwartz said.
It was about that time that Schwartz also realized something special could be in store.
"There was definitely a point in the inning when I realized that this could be bigger than just Lake Elsinore and Lancaster -- it could be bigger than just winning and losing," Schwartz said. "This was one of those things in baseball that you had never seen before and may never see again. At a certain point, I was just trying to call it down the middle and be as factual as I possibly could. So I just started trying to put the inning into context of what it meant in the bigger picture."
Tarasco knew from experience that sometimes you just stay out of the way, so he let his players play.
"I said, 'I'm just going to stand over here and watch you guys do it,'" he recalled. "The whole time in the dugout, after we started to get momentum, you could hear, 'Hey, keep the line moving.' We started to believe more and more and more. I was already satisfied, as a skipper, that they were making that effort. They could have easily thrown in the towel."
He was also thankful to a member of his staff for having put in the work that kept his batters' heads in the game, emphasizing that hitting coach Doug Banks "always had a talent to connect with players."
Especially because Banks' pupils were so locked in, the rally began to feel like a serious threat. With the lead cut to three, Luis Campusano smacked a line drive to center, scoring both Washington and Cordoba. Arias followed with a single to plate Edwards. It was 13-13. The comeback was completed, and all 10 runs had scored with two outs.
The night had become epic, yet Schwartz, with everything that was going on around him, remembered there was still more to come.
"I thought, 'Hey, just because they came back doesn't mean the game is over,'" he said. "That was a wild thought for me to think, that they scored exactly 10 runs to tie the game but could still come back and lose the very next half-inning, which was even more of a wilder thought to me than of coming back in the first place. Can you imagine a team scoring 10 runs in the ninth with two out to tie the game and then losing on a walk-off?"
Although the JetHawks' Tommy Doyle did fan Eguy Rosario to end the Storm eruption, Lake Elsinore stayed out of trouble in the bottom half of the frame. Jimmy Herron led off with a walk, but Fred Schlichtholz induced a groundball double play from Luke Morgan and a lineout from Austin Bernard to send the game into extras.
With Rosario taking second as the designated runner to start the top of the 10th, Tirso Ornelas singled to right to give the Storm their first lead since it was 2-1 in the second.
Of course, the drama wasn't over -- even though some of it had little to do with baseball.
"I'm not sure of the details of the sprinklers, but it was in the bottom of the 10th with two outs, and we had the tying run out there and we had a sprinkler delay in left field," Schwartz said. "Those went on for a while. They went off and the Lake Elsinore manager and umpires went out to deep left field to make sure the field was playable, and they decided it was."
But baseball gods' effort to put a damper on the JetHawks' night wasn't over.
"They continued the at-bat and [Ryan Vilade] ended up striking out with two outs but the strike three pitch got away, so he reached, which brought up our No. 3 hitter [Luis Castro]. On a 2-2 count, the sprinklers went off in center field. Those turn off and he ends up reaching base. We have the bases loaded with two outs and our cleanup hitter [Casey Golden] hit a fly ball just in front of the 400-foot sign in center. Their center fielder [Jeisson Rosario] fell over as he caught it, and that's how the game ended."
The Storm, once down to their last out and trailing by 10 runs, had won. It was quite possibly the biggest two-out, ninth-inning comeback of all time. Searchable data for Minor League games is available only from 2005 on, but Schwartz and others have hunted for examples of more dramatic victories in baseball history and come up empty-handed.
"The short answer to the question is [that it's probably never happened before]," Schwartz said. "The largest we found in the big leagues was nine and the largest that I have seen in the Minor Leagues is also nine..."
Obviously, a larger ninth-inning, two-out rally isn't likely to take place any time soon. But then again, until that third out is recorded, there's always a chance.