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Cal League series still baffling 13 years later

Lake Elsinore, Lancaster alumni recall wild weekend in 2007
February 26, 2020

Matt Antonelli had played in a baseball game each of the last 10 days. The prior night's win back home in Lake Elsinore ended at 9:39 local time. Account for maybe an hour to shower and load up the bus, and the Storm didn't depart for Lancaster until sometime around 11.

Matt Antonelli had played in a baseball game each of the last 10 days. The prior night's win back home in Lake Elsinore ended at 9:39 local time. Account for maybe an hour to shower and load up the bus, and the Storm didn't depart for Lancaster until sometime around 11. The most direct route stretched 117 miles. Sleep came at a premium.
So a Friday evening series opener against the Class A Advanced JetHawks didn't appeal to Antonelli.
"Please," the infielder thought as he approached the lineup card posted in the visitor's clubhouse at the facility then known as Clear Channel Stadium, "let me have the day off today."

That sentiment spread. Most players didn't want to play. Tough luck, because baseball season never relents. Antonelli was leading off that night. Mike Baxter, though, had the assignment that incited jealousy across the roster. His off-day duties consisted of coaching first base and tracking his impromptu fantasy team's performance.
The game within the game was how the Storm's bench players stayed involved. They drafted players from that day's lineup and tallied hits and walks and other stats on a piece of athletic tape stuck to the dugout wall. The tape from May 18, 2007 stayed up all weekend because its length was too absurd to cut its shelf life so short. The rest of the series ended up matching that absurdity, and the three-game set -- packed with milestone performances and eye-popping numbers -- is remembered as just as baffling 13 years later.
As for Antonelli, he racked up six hits and tacked 24 points onto his season average. What started as a bad day to be in the lineup became the worst day to be on the bench.
"Everyone starts talking to Baxter like, '[Stinks] for you,'" Antonelli recalled. "'You're the guy who had the day off when we pounded out 30 runs.' It was funny how that flipped."
Box Score: May 18, 2007 -- Storm 30, JetHawks 0
Before the 28-hit, 30-0 thrashing -- in which Kyle Blanks also logged six knocks, and in which the Storm fell four runs and one hit shy of California League records -- the JetHawks were already getting pummeled. A stomach bug ravaged the clubhouse. Five regulars couldn't keep anything down, and the team trainer recommended they all be sent home to keep the illness from spreading. Manager Chad Epperson trusted the expert opinion but requested that the healthiest one of the sick players hunker down in the trainer's room in case he was needed at some point during the game. Epperson had no other bench options.
Outfielder Zach Daeges volunteered. Seven innings passed. Lake Elsinore scored in five of them. Daeges wasn't needed -- until left fielder Bubba Bell collided with center fielder Yahmed Yema in the top of the eighth and left in an ambulance. Epperson retreated to the clubhouse and summoned Daeges, who was forced to enter a 23-0 game and endure the final 12 outs.
They told Daeges not to swing. He fanned anyway. The only ball hit his way was Antonelli's sixth hit, a double that plated the game's final run.
"He was standing out there dry-heaving in left field," Epperson said. "This is the kind of night it was."

An ill Zach Daeges managed to come up with two hits in Game 2. (Lancaster JetHawks)
Later, Epperson had to write up his game report. It was standard procedure, sent out to the entire Red Sox organization -- which Lancaster joined on a two-year contract in 2007 -- to detail any notable performances or developments. He knew this one wasn't going to look good.
"The only saving grace," Epperson said, "is they're asleep at this point in time on the East Coast."
There was a section for "general comments." He kept it brief.
"Line score tells the tale," he said. "Send. That's it. Normally, you have to go into a pretty good how-the-starter-did and how-this-person-did [breakdown]. But when you get beat 30-0, there's not much you can say."
Box Score: May 19, 2007 -- JetHawks 14, Storm 12
How do you react to losing by that much without scratching across a single run? Not all that differently compared to any other high-scoring loss, said Jethawks first baseman Aaron Bates. He stressed that the Red Sox reinforced process and consistency. They valued professionalism, he said. Putting too much emphasis on one result would have been the opposite.
The loss didn't sit as well with Epperson. He rarely called team meetings, and he didn't on the night of the Game 1 drubbing. But before Saturday's Game 2, the manager had a message: he wasn't mad, he just wanted the team to play hard.
"It wasn't like we lost, 30-0, by making 10 errors," Epperson said. "We made one error. And it was the first play of the game. And it was like, 'I can't get on these guys for not swinging the bats. Am I looking at the shutout or am I looking at 30-0?' You know?"
Bates had one of the JetHawks' five hits the night before, but he still followed Epperson into his office to apologize. He wanted his manager to know that he cared about the way they lost.
"I don't know what's going to happen today, but we're going to make sure that we win this game," Bates said at the time. "We're going to get them back. I don't want you to be embarrassed."
Bates hit cleanup, yet Lancaster trailed by a 9-0 margin by the time he came up in the second inning. Epperson remembers pitching coach Bob Kipper suggesting to "punt" at that point.
That wasn't an option for Bates, although it was hard to buckle in for another three hours, knowing the other team had scored 39 unanswered runs. But Bates thought about his promise to Epperson. He refused to give away the at-bat. He hit a fly ball that sneaked over the wall, and he kept his head down while completing a quick lap around the bases. The deficit was eight.
The JetHawks continued to chisel away, with Bates' bat the sharpest tool. He crushed another solo shot in the third and a two-run dinger in the fifth before singling in the sixth. He came up a final time in the eighth, down a run with a runner on second. He expected a free pass, but Storm reliever Steve Delabar went at him.
The at-bat dragged on long enough for JetHawks broadcaster Jeff Lasky to dig up Bates' numbers against Delabar. Their only previous meeting had resulted in a homer. As Lasky relayed that fact to his listeners, Bates unleashed another, becoming the first Cal League player to go deep four times in a game. His 17 total bases has never been topped.
"When that one went out, I was just hoping we would win the game moreso than anything," Bates said, "because of the way we lost the night before."
Box Score: May 20, 2007: Storm 21, JetHawks 6
Lancaster held on, 14-12. It led by as many as four runs on Sunday, too. But Lake Elsinore put up 12 in the eighth inning to take the series finale, 21-6. Yordany Ramirez, who had plated seven runs in Game 1, hit for the cycle -- still the most recent cycle in franchise history -- while collecting another eight RBIs.

Matt Buschmann didn't need nearly all the run support he got in Game 1. (David Nelson/
"It was just hard to believe that it could continue, that this offensive onslaught could continue," said Storm broadcaster Sean McCall, "but here's a historical game for Yordany and another blowout. Twenty-one-to-six sounds like a college football Saturday or an NFL Sunday, not Game 3 in Lancaster."
To be fair, Lancaster's ballpark is one of the most hitter-friendly settings in a hitter-friendly league. On the edge of the Mojave Desert and at an elevation of about 2,350 feet, the air is thin and heavy winds blow through. The gusts make the ballpark's spacious dimensions -- 350 feet to the corners, 385 feet to the gaps and 410 feet straightaway -- seem tiny.
Lancaster took advantage of the conditions. Daeges' 55 doubles that year remain tied for the league record. Bell won league MVP honors. Five JetHawks hit more than 20 homers, and four had an OPS north of 1.000. The team averaged 7.72 runs per game, totaling 200 more runs than the next best offense: Lake Elsinore.
The Storm hit a franchise-record 12 grand slams in 2007; the Padres affiliate would've had 13 if Chad Huffman hadn't passed one of the men on base after he cranked one. They carried a number of future big leaguers, including David Freese, Blanks and Jose Lobaton -- who, oddly enough, was the only Lake Elsinore batter not to log a hit in the series opener.
But only one elite offense that weekend scored 63 runs on 64 hits. Why? Some pointed to the wind, which blew 25 mph out to right field at first pitch for Game 1. But others didn't recall the breeze being any stronger than a typical day in Lancaster. And even if it was, it wouldn't have chosen to blow for only one team.
"That weekend has a lot of statistical oddities," Blanks said. "But the ones that people will be hit in the face with aren't even necessarily the craziest ones."

Instead, what stood out to those involved was not that the Storm erupted in an offensive haven. It was that its pitching could be so dominant while that offensive haven's influence was in full effect. Matt Buschmann started the 30-0 game and fanned nine while allowing four hits over 6 2/3 innings. Matt Handley handled the rest, getting five of his seven outs via strikeouts. Neither allowed a runner to reach third base. Meanwhile, the JetHawks deployed 11 pitchers across the weekend and only two kept the ball in the yard.
"I think everyone kind of realized, this feels more like a video game than a real baseball game right now," Antonelli said. "It was that wacky of a game and of a series."
Bates got the cheat code next. Then Ramirez. Maybe it was all random. Maybe it was the wind. But it'll almost definitely never happen again.
On the other hand, the 2020 season is right around the corner.

Joe Bloss is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.