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Crooked Numbers: Looking back at the weirdness

A rollicking compendium of strange-but-true on-field occurrences
If missing weird Minor League Baseball moments is a sickness, then this special edition of Crooked Numbers is the antidote.
July 23, 2020

One of the greatest things about baseball -- perhaps the very best thing -- is that you never know when you're going to see something that you've never seen before. Every pitch, every swing and every moment is imbued with the potential of the unprecedented. That's where Crooked Numbers comes

One of the greatest things about baseball -- perhaps the very best thing -- is that you never know when you're going to see something that you've never seen before. Every pitch, every swing and every moment is imbued with the potential of the unprecedented. That's where Crooked Numbers comes in.

Crooked Numbers, a long-running column whose exact origins have been lost to, and in, the annals of time, is dedicated to chronicling Minor League Baseball's wildest, strangest and most unpredictable moments. There are a lot of such moments in Minor League Baseball, which serves as a nightly staging ground for the improbable and the absurd.

Alas, we are living in 2020. No Minor League Baseball means no Minor League Baseball weirdness. This, then, is the next best thing: a retrospective featuring one classic "Crooked Numbers" moment from each of the past seven seasons. There's plenty more where this came from, and reader suggestions are always welcome. If you have Minor League Baseball oddities you wish to share, please get in touch via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz).

2013: Looking for a quintessentially bizarre Minor League Baseball game? The May 21 California League contest in Stockton had everything: extra innings, crazy comebacks, position players pitching and a fan ejected from the ballgame. This Education Day tilt took 17 innings to complete, with the Ports finally emerging over the visiting Lake Elsinore Storm, 11-9. The teams were tied, 6-6, at the end of nine innings, 8-8 at the end of 13 and 9-9 at the end of 16. Wade Kirkland finally won it with a two-run walk-off homer in the 17th in his first at-bat of the game, and the blast also made him the winning pitcher. The moonlighting shortstop hurled the last two frames for the Ports, allowing a run in the 16th before blanking the Storm in the 17th.

The Ports won despite the fact that their Nos. 8 and 9 hitters combined to go 0-for-14. Right fielder Dusty Robinson, batting ninth, had a particularly rough time as he struck out a whopping seven times.

As for the fan who was ejected, that was a self-described "ballpark junkie" named Will MacNeil. He was tossed in the 15th by plate umpire Mike Huus. His offense was yelling, "Terrible strike zone," followed by a derogatory term for a little person.

"When he threw me out I had an 'Are you kidding me?' reaction, and at first the Ports dugout thought it was one of them [who was ejected] but, no, it was me," MacNeil said. "The Ports staff was laughing at me, like, 'Well, I guess you have to leave.' It was funny because I'm not the tallest guy in the world -- I'm only 5-foot-7."

MacNeil left the stands but did not leave the ballpark as the Ports staff allowed him to watch the rest of the game while crouched behind a merchandise kiosk. It was from this unique vantage point that he saw Kirkland earn himself a win with his walk-off blast.

2014: It sounds like a riddle: May started a game in July that ended in August.

On July 24 in Durham, Rochester Red Wings pitcher Trevor May tossed three hitless frames against the hometown Bulls. Then the rains came and the game was suspended. Since the teams had no more games scheduled against one another in Durham, it was resumed on Aug. 11 some 600 miles away in Rochester before that evening's regularly scheduled contest.

This put the Red Wings in the rare position of being the away team while playing in their home ballpark, and it put pitcher Logan Darnell in the rare position of inheriting a no-hitter in what was essentially a starting assignment. (May wasn't even on the Rochester roster on Aug. 11, having been promoted to Minnesota two days earlier.)

Darnell was up to the task, however unorthodox, as he no-hit the Bulls for six innings en route to the 22nd no-hitter in Red Wings history. He was thus credited with a win for the July 24 game in Durham, despite having never having pitched on the day in question or in the city in which the game was alleged to have taken place. In fact, he'd been promoted to the Twins on July 25 and made the first start of his Major League career on July 26 against the White Sox before being sent back to Rochester in time to finish in August what May had started in July.

2015: On April 24, the Inland Empire 66ers defeated the High Desert Mavericks, 13-5. This sort of elevated winning run total is par for the course in the California League, perhaps the most fertile circuit for "Crooked Numbers" content. But what was strange about this game is how the 66ers scored their 13 runs: they recorded 19 hits with nary a one going for extra bases.

"When I looked at the box score, I said, 'Wow, we had 19 singles,'" Inland Empire hitting coach Brent Del Chiaro said. "They were all hit hard at people. I remember their outfielders throwing the ball to third, so I thought we had some extra-base hits. As far as where it ranks, it's a first for me, especially in the California League, where the ball flies. It's something pretty special."

Added 66ers play-by-play man Steve Wendt: "To be honest with you, it was about the seventh inning and I was going through my box score, thinking, 'That's a lot of hits.' But that was a single, that was a single, that was a single -- I was looking for an extra-base hit. It kind of snuck up on me. About hit No. 14 was when I noticed. It made me feel a little bit derelict in my duty."

2016: There's no tying in baseball! There isn't supposed to be, at least, but it happens occasionally. At the start of the season, there hadn't been a tie of any kind in the Pacific Coast League since 1996. On May 30, there were two within a span of approximately 80 minutes.

That afternoon, the Tacoma Rainiers and New Orleans Zephyrs were knotted at 2-2 after five innings when heavy rains brought the game to a halt. Tacoma had a flight to catch (the PCL, like the rest of us, flies commercial) and the teams weren't scheduled to meet again in 2016. The game went down in the record books as a tie, netting Zephyrs starter Paul Clemens an ultra-rare complete-game no-decision.

An hour and twenty minutes had scarcely passed before the Fresno Grizzlies and Colorado Springs Sky Sox joined the PCL deadlock club. With the score tied, 6-6, after 10 innings, the game was called because of a travel curfew (both teams, in this case, had flights to catch). The Sky Sox also were involved in what had been the PCL's previous tie, a 9-9 draw against the Calgary Cannons in 1996.

2017: There were 22 no-hitters in the Minor Leagues in 2017. Two teams -- the Lakewood BlueClaws and Gulf Coast League Cardinals -- recorded two a piece. But here's where the GCL Cardinals stand out: their no-hitters both took place during a July 23 doubleheader against the Marlins. Joan Baez and Jose Jimenez did the deed in the opener, while Jared Johnson and Gilberto Chu got it done in the nightcap. This pair of seven-inning no-hitters were the only ones thrown in the GCL during the campaign.

2018: The Eugene Emeralds went a Northwest League-worst 31-45 in 2018. Also, the Eugene Emeralds won the Northwest League championship. The Cubs' Class A Short Season affiliate sneaked into the playoffs after finishing second in the South Division in the second half. The, they swept the Hillsboro Hops (winners of both halves in the South Division) in the first round before sweeping the Spokane Indians in the NWL Finals. This improbable run was clinched in the most improbable of fashions: a walk-off balk to end the season.

2019: We return, yet again, to the California League to, yet again, celebrate what is surely one of the most unbelievable Minor League Baseball games of all time. It took place on Aug. 14, with the Lancaster JetHawks hosting the Lake Elsinore Storm. The JetHawks, buoyed by a nine-run sixth inning, took a 13-3 lead into the ninth. The Storm, down to their last out with a runner on first, began the rally of the century: walk, single, double, walk, walk, walk, single, single, walk, single, single.

This small ball barrage tied the game at 13-13. It went into extra innings, where the Storm pushed across another run in the 10th. Final score: Lake Elsinore 14, Lancaster 13.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.