Call it the finest example of home-field advantage. As winds whipped across Citibank Ballpark from left to right, the Midland RockHounds prepared to continue the offensive momentum they built up Sunday, when they had scored seven runs in the final two innings of their 7-5 win over San Antonio.
The Double-A RockHounds scored 11 times in the first frame Monday en route to routing San Antonio, 12-2. The event marked the first time that a Texas League club had brought in 11 runs in the game's opening inning since the Midland Angels achieved the feat on July 5, 1992.
The RockHounds sent all nine of their hitters to the plate before Missions starter Hayden Beard was able to record an out. Leadoff hitter Conner Crumbliss walked and stole a base to start the game before Josh Horton smacked a two-run homer.
Then the wind, which had reported gusts of about 40 miles per hour, came into play. A's No. 2 prospect Michael Choice hit a ball to short right field that would have been easily caught under normal circumstances. Instead, the ball was pushed back to the infield where it bounced between two defenders and into the Midland dugout for an official ground-rule double.
After Beard (0-3) loaded the bases with a walk two batters later, Jeremy Barfield drove in two with an infield single that deflected off San Antonio first baseman Nathan Freiman's mitt. Ryan Lipkin added another with a bases-loaded walk and Crumbliss plated two more with a single. After Dustin Pease replaced Beard, who finished with nine runs allowed over just one-third of an inning, Choice and Shane Peterson added the final runs of the frame with a ground out and a three-run blast respectively.
"It was definitely the windiest game I've ever played in, so it was definitely a little crazy for us," said Crumbliss, who finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. "But once everything got going, it felt like we couldn't do anything wrong."
As big a day as Monday was for the entire RockHounds lineup, it may have represented even more to Crumbliss. The Midland second baseman went 1-for-22 between April 21-26 and saw his average dip from .255 to .203 over that span. But in his last three games, the Kansas native is 6-for-8 -- including two consecutive three-hit games -- with five RBIs and four runs scored.
Crumbliss, who has never owned a slugging percentage higher than .378 in his three previous seasons in the Minors, thinks it helped that he stopped aiming for the fences.
"I was trying to do too much [earlier in the season]," he said. "I wasn't being myself. ... I'm a pesky hitter. I'm just trying to hit it hard and find the holes. I shouldn't be trying to grab doubles or home runs or anything like that."
But even after Monday's big game, the A's prospect downplayed any idea that the feat would generate more energy within the club than a regular victory.
"Any time you win a game, you get a little momentum from that," Crumbliss said. "We'll just try to come back tomorrow and win tomorrow's game as well. But I wouldn't plan on anything like today, that's for sure.
"I wouldn't hold your breath for 11 runs tomorrow."
Midland starter Shawn Haviland (1-1) allowed two runs on five hits and without a walk over 5 1/3 innings. Murphy Smith struck out four and allowed two hits over the final 3 2/3 frames for his first save of the season.