Mejia's run into record books leads to MiLBY

Indians prospect earns Best Performance with 50-game hitting streak

Francisco Mejia finished the 2016 season with a .342 average in 102 games across two levels. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

By Alex Kraft / MiLB.com | November 1, 2016 11:00 AM

On Aug. 13 in Lynchburg, Virginia, Francisco Mejia reached a plateau that few in baseball have ever achieved.

With the help of a scoring reversal that changed a third-inning error to a double, the Indians' fourth-ranked prospect capped a historic hitting streak that spanned 50 games, 202 at-bats, 79 days and two Minor League levels. The streak was baseball's longest since 1954 and earned Mejia the 2016 MiLBY for Best Individual Performance.

"Just to watch him go about his business every day and prepare each day like it was the last day of the season, to go out there and compete and put together that kind of a hit streak is something I've never seen before," said Mark Budzinski, who managed Mejia with the Class A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats. "It was pretty special."

***

Mejia's hitting streak began May 27 with Class A Lake County. He went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles as the Captains dropped a 3-2 decision to the visiting Fort Wayne TinCaps.

The Indians had sent Mejia back to the Midwest League after compiling a .243/.324/.345 line in 109 games there a season ago, but the switch-hitting catcher reeled off 40 hits over his next 23 games to force a promotion to the Carolina League on June 27.

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The change of scenery failed to slow Mejia down, even as a root canal delayed his arrival in Lynchburg for two days. The 2012 international free agent collected hits in each of his first two games with the Hillcats to close out June and continued to stretch the streak through the dog days of the summer. Mejia's teammates and coaches seldom discussed the streak with him but privately marveled at what he was doing.

"We would talk about it among the staff after games and just shake our heads at it," Budzinski said. "He's super aggressive. He's not the guy who's looking for one pitch in one spot. He can hit the ball neck-high down to his toes."

"I didn't know about [the streak] until probably when he was about two weeks into being with us," Lynchburg reliever Trevor Frank said. "I thought it was just normal, him getting a hit. He could have a ball thrown at his face and still hit it down the line. It was unbelievable what he could hit."

On Aug. 4, Mejia doubled in the ninth inning against Salem to extend his streak to 46 games, passing High Desert's James McOwen for the longest in baseball's modern era. By then, the 21-year-old's story had begun to garner plenty of media attention.

The strain of the situation never became too much for Mejia even as he tried to balance his duties behind the plate, adapt to competition that was generally two to three years older and continue to acclimate to a foreign language and country.

"I think he internalized it, because the one thing that stands out about Frankie is that he never made the hit streak the main emphasis for the team," said Lynchburg hitting coach Larry Day, a former catcher. "Whether he had a 50-game hitting streak or he didn't have a hit in 50 games, the only thing that mattered was getting prepared for that night.

"He showed up to the park to win the game, not to get a hit."

***

Mejia arrived at the ballpark early before Lynchburg's afternoon tilt against the Winston-Salem Dash on Saturday, Aug. 13. He went through the same routine he'd performed before every game since he joined the team: hit the weight room, take swings from the left and right side in the batting cage, warm up on the field with the team, go over the lineup with that night's starting pitcher and then head back to the cage for some catching drills with Day.

"He was very routine-oriented," Day said. "There's nothing random about that player."

A night earlier, Mejia had doubled and singled in the opening game of the Hillcats' three-game home stand against Winston-Salem, extending his hitting streak to 49 games. A hit Saturday would move him into a tie for fourth on the all-time list with Danville's Otto Pahlman (1922).

Mejia had already popped out in the first inning when he came to bat in the third against Dash starter Tanner Banks. The left-hander fired a strike past Mejia on the first pitch, but the native of the Dominican Republic turned on the second and grounded the ball down the third-base line. Gerson Montilla, Winston-Salem's third baseman, moved to his right to field the ball, but it skipped past his glove and into left field, allowing Mejia to race to second. The scoreboard displayed that the play had been ruled an error.

Budzinski saw the ruling from the dugout but did not think much of it at the time.

"Quite honestly, when I saw the play it was a toss-up whether it was a hit or an error," the manager said.

Others on the team reached a more conclusive opinion.

"We were all screaming it should've been a hit as we were looking at the scoreboard," said Frank, who had watched the play unfold from the bullpen.

"I thought that was wrong," Day agreed. "I knew we would have to have a discussion about it, because it was not fair to give the third baseman an error on that play."

Mejia came up empty in his final three plate appearances, casting the spotlight on the third-inning grounder. He struck out in the fifth, grounded out to first in the seventh and walked with two outs in the ninth. For the moment, the streak seemed to be over.

"I knew there was a chance [it was over]," Day said. "But I also knew there was a chance it should and could be overturned.

"I was already trying to calculate a case for Frankie for that to be overturned."

Lynchburg's official scorer, Malcolm Haley, met with Budzinski and Day in the coach's office after the game to go over the hit. The ritual felt fairly routine -- Haley came down after every game to talk over a few plays and deliver the score sheet -- but the circumstances this time were clearly different.

Each shared his version of what he saw, while Haley produced data showing that his staff had clocked the ball's exit velocity at 93 mph. After a brief discussion, they all came to the conclusion that the play should be ruled a hit.

"There are factors like the location of the hit, which took the third baseman away to his backhand side, and the fact that it got by him and had enough velocity to get all the way to the left-field wall," Day said. "With those two factors right there, that's not a routine play.

"That would be a conversation we would have whether it was a 50-game hit streak or whether it was just a routine play that we didn't agree with the official scorer. Our staff, Bud and myself, we would do that for any of our players."

The players often hung around the clubhouse after games to meet with the coaches and go over that night's game. The manager emerged from his office and announced to the packed room that they had reversed the ruling, preserving Mejia's streak.

"When we broke the news, the whole clubhouse erupted," Budzinski said.

"We were all pumped for him," Frank added. "We all started screaming."

Mejia remained relatively silent as his teammates mobbed him. Despite authoring the historic moment they were now all a part of, he seemed among the least moved by the outcome.

"He wasn't too worried," Frank said. "It was just a normal day for him. He didn't care if it was or wasn't a hit. He just wanted to go out there and play."

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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