The premise behind "Crooked Numbers" is simple: Each month, the column commemorates the weird, wild and wholly unpredictable occurrences that take place throughout Minor League Baseball.
While the previous five editions of this column simply reviewed the events of the month that had just passed, this entry is a bit more unwieldy. Included are not only incidents from the final week of the regular season and the playoffs but also several that for whatever reason were not included previously. What can I say, except that this is the last "Crooked Numbers" of 2009 and I have a lot of ground to cover?
As always, feel free to get in touch to alert me to anything I have missed. The Minor Leagues are intimidatingly vast and I cannot go it alone. So keep those emails coming, and thanks for reading.
Doing It All: Sept. 4 decidedly was not just another day at the ballpark for active Minor League home run king Mike Hessman. In a game against Columbus, the Toledo Mud Hens veteran played all nine positions and went 1-for-5 with a single and four strikeouts. He also was caught stealing, suffered a blown save and was charged with the loss as the Clippers rallied for a 12-11 win.
Hessman took the mound in the ninth inning with the Mud Hens clinging to an 11-10 lead and retired the first two batters he faced. But three singles, a wild pitch and a throwing error resulted in two runs. "It was fun, but it was extremely frustrating," Hessman said of his eventful night.
Nothing Can Sit Atop A Volcano: The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes have won four straight Western Division titles in the Northwest League, an impressive feat in its own right. But even more impressive is that the club has not spent a single day out of first place during this time. To find the last time the Volcanoes weren't atop the division, one has to travel all the way back to Sept. 7, 2005.
Scholl On a Roll: Cedar Rapids reliever Chris Scholl finished up the 2009 campaign on an almost unfathomably high note: The 21-year-old righty did not allow a hit over his final 18 2/3 innings (spanning nine appearances), striking out 31 batters while walking nine. Scholl kept on rolling right into the playoffs -- he struck out seven over 2 1/3 hitless frames in his lone postseason appearance.
A Selfless Individual: Over his last nine games of the season, Lynchburg Hillcats infielder Jordy Mercer collected six sacrifice flies.
Half-and-Half: Before the Carolina League All-Star break, Hillcats reliever Michael Colla went 4-0 with an 0.96 ERA over 17 games, and opponents hit just .210 against him. After the break, he went 2-3 with a 6.87 ERA, and opponents batted .310.
Invoking a Loophole: Among players with enough at-bats to qualify for the Carolina League batting title, no one hit higher than Clint Robinson's .298. However, according to scoring rule 10.22(a), the title can go to a player "with fewer than the required number of plate appearances whose average would be the highest, if he were charged with the required number of plate appearances." That player would be Frederick Keys outfielder Robbie Widlansky, who hit .340 despite being 14 at-bats short of the minimum to qualify. If Widlansky had gone hitless in 14 additional at-bats, he would have hit .326. In fact, he would've had to go hitless over 47 at-bats for his average to fall below Robinson's .298.
Better Late Than Never: The Charleston RiverDogs beat the Rome Braves, 4-0 on Sept. 2, despite not recording their first hit until the 10th inning. Julio Teheran kept the RiverDogs hitless through seven frames and Angelo Paulino followed with two perfect innings. Paulino lost the no-hit bid when Abraham Almonte doubled leading off the 10th, but the game remained scoreless until the 13th. The RiverDogs finally broke through with four runs on four hits, an error and a sacrifice fly.
A Brief Krestalude: Helena's Damon Krestalude made nine starts this season and went 3-2 with a solid 3.33 ERA. Out of the bullpen, however, the 20-year-old Floridian went 0-2 with an 11.21 ERA in six appearances. He allowed more runs (24) over 17 2/3 innings in relief than he did over 51 1/3 as a starter (20).
Earning A Callup: Mike Musgrave of the Class A Advanced San Jose Giants suffered through an abysmal August, allowing 13 runs in only three innings (spanning six appearances). Naturally, he received a September promotion to Triple-A Fresno, where he made two appearances and allowed just one run over three frames.
Go Figueroa: The Fort Wayne TinCaps won 94 games this season, marking the first time a Midwest League team had won that many since the 1987 Springfield Cardinals. A key contributor to that '87 squad was Bien Figueroa, father of current TinCap Cole Figueroa. And while the TinCaps won this year's Midwest League title, Springfield wasn't quite so fortunate in '87. The club lost to the Kenosha Twins, who later became the Fort Wayne Wizards, who later became the TinCaps.
Who'da Thunk It?: The unlikeliest postseason hero this season had to have been Lynchburg's Jose De Los Santos. The 24-year-old second baseman hit a walk-off homer in Game 2 of the Mills Cup Finals, marking the first time he had gone yard since 2005.
Hu Comes Through: The Albuquerque Isotopes made a quick exit from the playoffs, getting swept by the eventual-champion Memphis Redbirds in the semifinals. But fans can take away at least one positive memory from the experience -- the 'Topes turned a triple play on Sept. 9. The Redbirds had Brian Barden on second and Mark Shorey on first when Matt Pagnozzi hit a ground ball to shortstop Chin-Lung Hu. Hu tagged Barden, stepped on second to force Shorey and fired to first to complete the triple play. That's 6-6-3, for those scoring at home.
Shades of David Cone: The Durham Bulls defeated the Redbirds, 5-4, in the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game, making a mental lapse by Redbirds pitcher P.J. Walters all the more egregious. Desmond Jennings hit a grounder to first baseman Mark Hamilton, but Walters was late covering the bag and Jennings was called safe. As Walters argued the call, Ray Olmedo (Watch ) bolted for home and beat the throw as the Bulls extended their lead to 4-0.
The Ol' Walk-off Infield Fly: On Aug. 28, Kane County and Wisconsin were locked in a 3-3 tie when the Cougars loaded the bases with one out in the 10th inning. Franklin Hernandez lofted a ball to shallow right field, prompting the infield fly rule to be invoked for the second out. However, right fielder Peter Fatse dropped the ball, allowing Nino Leyja to scamper home with the winning run.
Doubly Sweet: The Burlington Royals went 0-10 against Danville this season before pulling out a victory in their final contest against one another. Making the Aug. 26 win even more satisfying was that it came against Matt Crim, who was 10-0 in his first 11 starts of the season with three wins over the Royals.
The Ruiner: In the completion of a suspended game on Aug. 29, Burlington's Ben Tschepikow hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning to break up Greenville's shutout bid. Then, during the regularly scheduled contest, Tschepikow singled with one out in the seventh to break up a no-hitter. Burlington lost both games, however.
A Frustrating Follow-Up: Luke Putkonen of the West Michigan Whitecaps enjoyed his best start of the season on Aug. 25, notching a career-high eight strikeouts over six shutout frames. He didn't get the chance to improve on that in his next start as he threw just one pitch before Fort Wayne skipper Doug Dascenzo notified the home plate umpire that Putkonen wasn't on the lineup card. As a result, Putkonen was removed from the game.
A Grand Omission: And finally, reader Robert Walton was kind enough to alert me to the following tidbit, which occurred way back on May 5. The Salt Lake Bees hit two grand slams in the fourth inning against Tacoma. Brad Coon hit the first slam and each of the next three batters reached base to load 'em up again. That brought up Bobby Wilson, who promptly deposited the ball over the right-field fence. It marked just the third time in the 107-year history of the Pacific Coast League that two grand slams were hit in one inning -- and perhaps the first time that the slams were separated by only three batters (making them, in essence, back-to-back).