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MiLB's best of the decade: Games

Comebacks, slugfests, milestones made for unforgettable contests
Before Lake Elsinore stormed to the Cal League South Division title, it completed one of the wildest comebacks in Minor League history. (Lake Elsinore Storm)
December 16, 2020

There are tens of thousands of games in a Minor League season and the majority of them come with an element of suspense. The very best of them might include a milestone – a no-hitter, a three- or four-homer game, a cycle or a triple play. Scads of them may

There are tens of thousands of games in a Minor League season and the majority of them come with an element of suspense. The very best of them might include a milestone – a no-hitter, a three- or four-homer game, a cycle or a triple play. Scads of them may swing on walk-off heroics or dominant pitching performances. A lot of them feature the brightest names in the Major Leagues first impressing their clubs and fans down on the farm. So it’s a formidable task to single out just 10 from the 2010s. In doing so, some had to be left behind or were used in our tally of Best Performances from the decade. These are the games that elicited shock and awe from the staff.

As reviews the previous decade, Toolshed highlighted the top Offensive Players, Starting Pitchers and Relievers. Then we looked at Performances, and now here are the top single games from the 2010s.

10. Peters twice as tough on Bumgarner: It’s always exciting when a big-name Major Leaguer rehabs in the Minors. Three-time World Series champion Madison Bumgarner taking the hill for Class A Advanced San Jose on July 5, 2017 was news. Then-No. 18 Dodgers prospect DJ Peters (who has since ascended to No. 11) wasn’t expecting to take Bumgarner downtown once, let alone twice, for Rancho Cucamonga. In the fourth inning, Peters sent a solo shot 474 feet to left field off the 2014 World Series MVP. When the Quakes batted around, the then-21-year-old got another look at Bumgarner. He went deep to left again, becoming the first player to homer off the ace twice in the same frame. That was just four days after Peters recorded his first career three-homer game. But it was the success against the four-time All-Star that stayed with the Quakes slugger. “Whenever you face a guy like that, you want to enjoy the moment and gauge the situation you're in and the atmosphere. My whole mind-set was to just have fun because I got to face one of the best pitchers in the game of baseball,” Peters later told Complete story | Box score

9. Lumber emerges from hibernation: Class A Burlington had almost half its first 12 games of the 2018 season postponed by inclement weather, so it’s understandable that the bats hadn’t heated up yet. The team batted .191 and scored 29 runs in its first nine contests. But on April 20, the fortunes reversed … and then some. Jo Adell, then the Angels' No. 2 prospect, had batted .185 without a homer to that point. By the end of the Bees’ 28-7 rout of Quad Cities, he'd added four hits and a career-high eight RBIs to that tally. Brandon Marsh, then the fifth-ranked Los Angeles prospect and now the Angels’ No. 1, drove in seven. Adell and Marsh counted grand slams among their knocks that day, while the guys at the bottom of the lineup – Spencer Griffin, David MacKinnon and Gleyvin Pineda – went 13-for-15 with 14 runs scored and six RBIs. Complete story | Box score

8. Five touchdowns and a field goal: It was literally one for the record books when the Yankees’ Rookie-level Dominican Summer League squad posted 38 runs in a shellacking of the Twins on July 3, 2019. Yet the visiting Baby Bombers didn’t even cross the plate in the first inning of the 38-2 victory, which topped the Minors’ previous high-water mark by five runs -- Rookie Advanced Ogden eked out a 33-10 victory over Helena in the Pioneer League on Aug. 27, 1995. The biggest bat was swung by now-free agent Brayan Jimenez with four hits and seven RBIs, but every member of the Yankees starting lineup collected multiple hits, as did a couple of the team’s pinch-hitters.The final tally boasted 40 runs, 36 hits, five homers, six errors, three stolen bases, five wild pitches, two balks, 33 players and 215 pitches over three hours and 42 minutes. Complete story | Box score

7. What a day for a debut: Grant Kay, taken by Tampa Bay in the 27th round of the 2014 Draft, had been considering returning to the University of Louisville with the prospects of another trip to the College World Series or turning pro that June. After a successful six-game stint on Cape Cod’s wooden-bat circuit, the now-free agent third baseman decided on the latter. Despite some paperwork trouble on July 14, 2014 -- the day before the Major League All-Star Game -- he was penciled onto a professional lineup card for the first time as the No. 5 hitter for Class A Short Season Hudson Valley in an eventual 16-4 win over Batavia. Kay homered on the first pitch he saw. Then he doubled, singled twice and, in the eighth inning, raced for a triple. He’d completed the cycle – for the first time in his life. "I'm not going to cycle every day, I know that," Kay told later that day. Complete story | Box score

6. Tee-off time for IronPigs and Red Wings: Historically, hitters take time to catch up to pitchers when the season gets underway, particularly in cold-weather regions. But on April 13, 2019, the reverse proved to be true. Triple-A Lehigh Valley and Rochester combined for 15 home runs before the IronPigs pulled out a 20-18 victory over the Red Wings. With a 23-mph wind blowing out to left at Frontier Field, the contest set all kinds of league, team and venue records. Ten men went yard – Lehigh Valley’s Dylan Cozens, Jan Hernandez, Andrew Romine and Sean Rodríguez twice and Mitch Walding plus Rochester’s Zander Wiel two times and shots by Wilin Rosario, Wynston Sawyer, Brent Rooker and Ronald Torreyes. Only two of the game's 10 pitchers (Tom Windle and Edubray Ramos) managed to avoid watching the ball fly out of the park. By Rochester’s estimation in a tweet that day, the taters traveled a combined 1.1 miles. Complete story | Box score

5. LumberKings construct comeback: The Minor Leagues’ main objective is to prep players for the Majors. So when a team gets down by double-digit runs, its manager often reinforces that his charges keep competing and have professional at-bats. That’s what happened on May 7, 2014, when Class A Clinton was losing to Burlington, 17-1, on the road. First, the LumberKings cut into the sizable deficit with six runs in the sixth inning. Then a five-run eighth narrowed the gap further. Seattle catching prospect Marcus Littlewood tied up the proceedings with a grand slam in a five-run ninth and the teams headed to extra innings. In the 12th, Kyle and Corey Seager’s brother, Justin Seager – who went 4-for-7 with three runs scored – knocked in the go-ahead run with a groundout. Lonnie Kauppila singled in two more and then the second baseman, who had never pitched professionally, retired the side in order in the bottom of the frame to notch the save in the 20-17 win. Complete story | Box score

4. Two cycles, one inning: In 2018, two teammates found a way to hit for the cycle in the same game ... twice. On April 11, Class A Advanced San Jose’s Gio Brusa completed the feat in the eighth inning and teammate Jalen Miller followed suit in the ninth. That was impressive enough. But on Aug. 7, Triple-A Indianapolis’ Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings also completed cycles -- both in the eighth -- against Lehigh Valley. The Pirates shortstop seemingly had the easier path: having already doubled, singled and tripled, he merely belted a solo home run to left. But Pittsburgh’s catcher hadn’t tripled in three years and had totaled only five over a seven-year career to that point. After grounding out in the seventh, Stallings made use of the friendly confines of the Indians’ Victory Field and wound up on third after a drive to center. “He hits that ball in the gap and we're all just screaming, 'Go, go, go!'” Newman said later that night. “We're both great friends, so it was a really special thing." Complete story | Box score

3. One game, two milestones: Milestone games aren’t particularly rare in the Minors – for example, there were 29 no-hitters in 2019. But they’re still special to every team when they happen, and on July 19, 2011, there were two reasons for Double-A Northwest Arkansas to be joyful. The Naturals, who came into existence in 2008, celebrated the club’s first no-hitter and first triple play on the same night. The big one was a no-hitter twirled by then-Kansas City left-hander Will Smith and righty Kelvin Herrera, aided by a timely triple play. Smith retired the first 15 batters of the game before running into a spot of trouble in the sixth. He walked the first two batters in the bottom of the frame, but third baseman Mario Lisson started an around-the-horn triple play on a ground ball by Alberto Rosario. That kept the no-hitter intact and Smith, now with the Braves, threw one more frame before giving way to current free agent Herrera, who wrapped it up with a pair of strikeouts and four ground-ball outs. Complete story | Box score

2. Chihuahuas put exclamation mark on record: Last season, the top two games of the decade went 1-2 in staff voting for best games of 2019. A few staffers lobbied for El Paso to get the top slot after the Triple-A San Diego affiliate not only made up 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, but set a Pacific Coast League home run record on Esteban Quiroz’s walk-off grand slam in the 15-12 win over Round Rock on Aug. 9. That gave the Chihuahuas 232 homers on the year, topping the 1999 Omaha Golden Spikes’ league record. It was an emotional outburst on the field, because six days earlier there was a mass shooting at a local Walmart that killed 22 and injured 24. Chihuahuas manager Edwin Rodriguez and some of his players had spent time at the local hospital to show their support for the victims and their families. "The community is hurt ... that's the least we can do for them," Rodriguez said that night. "We can give them good times in the stadium." Complete story | Box score

1. Down to last out, Storm weather 10-run deficit: Yogi Berra famously said “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Lake Elsinore took that sentiment to heart on Aug. 14, 2019. With two outs in the top of the ninth in Lancaster, the Padres’ Class A Advanced affiliate refused to quit. According to Storm manager Tony Tarasco, at least eight batters were down to their respective last strikes in the fateful frame. Tarasco later told the strategy he employed was basically an absence of strategy. The players called for the line to keep moving. “We started to believe more and more and more,” the manager said. “I was already satisfied, as a skipper, that they were making that effort. They could have easily thrown in the towel." Those labors paid off, capped by a two-RBI single by Luis Campusano and a run-scoring knock from Gabriel Arias to tie the game. Having done that much, the Storm still had to push the go-ahead run across the plate in the 10th. Tirso Ornelas singled in the automatic runner from second base to give the Storm a lead they hadn’t had since the first inning, and even though the JetHawks got within 90 feet of retying the game, Fred Schlichtholz closed the page on the 14-13 victory, the ultimate game to remember from the 2010s. Complete story | Box score

Paige Schector is an editor for