On a normal Saturday in Major League Baseball, 15 baseball games are played across diamonds throughout the continental United States and Canada. And during each one of these games, any number of things could happen. A pitching staff could throw a no-hitter. A hitter could get seven hits. The defense could turn six double plays. Teams could make huge comebacks in the ninth inning and other teams could walk off the field dejected after losing in extras.
But the number of opportunities for interesting accomplishments is expanded in the minor leagues. Even in this early part of the season, when only the four full season levels are in action (and the three short-season levels wait patiently to begin), there are four times as many games as in the majors, quadrupling the chances of something odd, interesting, or historic to occur. Today, we look back to the first Saturday – April 8 – of the 2017 minor league season, and highlight some of the interesting facts from that day.
Games Played: 63
Extra-Inning Games: 6
Games Decided by One Run: 22
Teams scoring Double Digits: 11
Total Runs Scored: 614
Total Hits: 1078
Total Home Runs: 104
Players with Multi-Home Run Games: 9
The First Cycle
On Monday night in Colorado, Will Myers hit for the first MLB cycle of the season, finishing the task with a triple in the eighth inning. However, the first cycle of the baseball season happened two days previous in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Pat Valaika – the shortstop prospect for the Colorado Rockies – didn’t wait until his final at-bat to finish up the four-part task, however. Valaika ripped an RBI double in the first inning. The very next inning, he walloped a Daniel Wright pitch over the left field wall for a three-run home run. In the bottom of the fourth, Valaika came up with the bases loaded and drove all three runners in, ripping a fly ball to centerfield for a triple. The shortstop would come up once more the next inning, and quickly smacked a single to right field for a single… finishing the cycle in only five innings. Valaika would not be able to keep his perfect day at the plate, lining out in the seventh. However, a 4-for-5 day with seven RBI and three runs scored is a nice one-day effort, with his Isotopes picking up a 12-5 victory.
The First Three-Homer Game
Much like Myers and Valaika, when Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets drove three pitches out of Citizen’s Bank Park against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, he was the first MLB player to have a three-homer day, but not the first player in affiliated ball to do so. That honor belonged to Kevin Cron of the Jackson Generals, who transported three balls out of the Ballpark at Jackson on Saturday. However, his heroics were ultimately in vain.
Cron blasted his first of the day in the second inning off of the Birmingham Barons’ Michael Kopech, a solo shot which put the Generals up 1-0. Cron would strike out in his next two plate appearances before leading off the eighth inning against reliever Miguel Chalas. His second solo shot of the day came after the Barons had tallied six runs in the previous two frames, and would cut the Generals deficit to two. When he came up to bat next, Jackson was devoid of baserunners and there were two outs in the ninth, However, Colton Turner threw a pitch that Cron could handle, and the game was tied at seven.
Unfortunately for the would-be hero of the day, Birmingham was able to convert a lead-off walk, a wild pitch, a ground out, and a fly ball into a run in the top of the tenth. In the bottom of the frame, The Generals were able to get two runners on base, but a Victor Reyes strikeout ended the game with Cron waiting in the on-deck circle.
When the first pitch flew at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida, at 6:09 PM on Saturday night, the 2,500 gathered had no clue that they were about to endure an early-season marathon. But, when the Flying Tigers walked off the field after scoring their fifth run of the game at 10:34 PM, the faithful had witnessed 16 innings of impressive baseball.
While the game would become a pitching battle, it did not begin as one. Tampa Yankee starter Domingo Acevedo allowed four earned runs in just 4 ⅔ innings of work. Lakeland starter Spencer Turnbull allowed two runs in his five innings of work and Jeff Thompson gave up two runs in his first of three innings in the sixth. But after Jhalan Jackson’s two-run jack tied the game up at four, the battle of attrition began.
The Yankees’ Cody Carroll, Dillon McNamara, Colten Brewer, and Hobie Harris kept the home side off the board for ten consecutive innings. The Flying Tigers’ relievers – Thompson, Gerson Moreno, Kyle Dowdy, and Mark Ecker – kept the visitors scoreless for ten consecutive as well.
But every baseball game must have a winner and every baseball game must have a loser, and the bottom of the 16th was winning time for Lakeland. In his first three innings of work, Yankee reliever Hobie Harris had allowed only two Flying Tigers to reach – a ground single and a walk. But after fielding a comebacker for the first out of the inning, Harris was bitten by a bit of bad luck. Ross Kivett reached on a grounder to second base. Will Maddox followed with a bunt single down the third base line. Then Wade Hinkle ended the game with the Flying Tigers’ third consecutive single, this one a line drive to left field.
The two offenses combined to strike out 39 times, with both Trey Amburgey of the Yankees and David Gonzalez of the Tigers whiffing four times. Amburgey was also the only starter on either team to not reach base, going 0-for-7.
The Big Defeat
The Suns of Hagerstown and the Tourists of Asheville played one of three doubleheaders on Saturday. The first game was a tight affair, with the hometown Suns scoring two in the sixth and winning the game, 2-1. However, the second game was a different affair altogether.
Asheville picked up the first run of the game in the top of the first, seeing their first lead of the day. The lead would last for only three batters into the bottom of the first, as a Blake Perkins single, Carter Kieboom walk, and a Juan Soto single tied the game at one. After getting a strikeout, starter Bryan Baker induced a grounder which was muffed by shortstop Taylor Snyder, leading to the Suns second run of the inning. Another single (and another error) followed, scoring the third run. After a flyout put the second out on the board, Daniel Johnson ended Baker’s day with a three-run shot to right center field. Hagerstown was up 6-1 after the first inning… but was nowhere near finished.
Asheville’s J.D. Hammer finished the first inning, and then kept Hagerstown off the board in the second and third. However, he was replaced to start the fourth inning by Ryan Luna, and the Suns offense came back to life. Like the first inning, Perkins, Kieboom, and Soto all reached base to begin the inning. Unlike the first inning, however, Sheldon Neuse avoided the strikeout, instead hitting a moonshot off of Luna for the grand slam. Aldrem Corredor tripled before Luna finally picked up a pair of outs. However, Johnson would make sure another six-spot was placed on the board, driving another ball over the wall for his second jack of the day.
Luna was replaced by Julian Fernandez for the fifth inning, and Fernandez was able to get Perkins to strike out to begin the frame. However, Kieboom would walk and Soto would single, and Neuse would reach base as second baseman Jose Gomez misplayed a ground ball, scoring Kieboom. Corredor would follow with a strikeout which should have ended the inning. Alas, Fernandez had to face Anderson Franco, who drove a pitch to center field for a triple which scored both Soto and Neuse and Franco himself, after Taylor Snyder threw the ball away trying to get Franco out at third.
The Tourists would score a meaningless run in the seventh and final inning, bringing the deficit down to 14, with a final score of 16-2. Of the Suns starters, only Angelo La Bruna failed to reach base, going 0-for-4. He, along with catcher Tres Barrera, were the only Suns not to score, with the other seven starters each scoring at least two runs a piece (with Kieboom and Soto each scoring thrice).
Two Sides of the Coin
On this Saturday night in minor league baseball, eleven clubs battered their opposition for ten or more runs. On the other hand, just five clubs kept the opposition off the scoreboard. Only the Rochester Red Wings were able to do both, defeating the Syracuse Chiefs 10-0 in the first game of the season for both clubs,.
Red Wing pitchers Jose Berrios – who went six innings – and D.J. Baxendale – who pitched the final three innings – kept the AAA Blue Jays at bay. Berrios allowed a single, two doubles, and a walk while striking out seven. Baxendale gave up only a single, while whiffing three.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings piled on Syracuse pitching, accumulating 12 hits – five of which were doubles – and eight walks. But the big blow was Ben Paulsen’s seventh-inning grand slam off Mike Broadway, putting the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth run of the inning on the board for Rochester and making it a double-digit deficit for the Chiefs to attempt to overcome.
Charlotte Bomb Squad
With over 100 home runs hit on this Saturday night, crowds across the nation were witness to balls flying out of the park. But the Charlotte Knights were the kings of the four-baggers, parlaying six taters into an easy 15-5 win over the Norfolk Tides.
The Knights did not wait long to start knocking horsehide over the fence, with the third batter of the bottom of the first, Willy Garcia, taking starter Chris Lee long gone for home run number one. Danny Hayes would pick up the second dinger off of Lee in the third inning, but his was a grand one, scoring four. The Knights of the roundtripper would not strike again until the sixth, when Nicky Delmonico knocked a solo shot off Parker Bridwell. Two batters later, Hayes would strike again, parking a two-run shot outside of BB&T Ballpark. The next inning, Charlotte would knock two more into the night, with Jose Vinicio leading off the inning with a solo shot off Logan Verrett. Two batters later, Yoan Moncada massacred a Verrett pitch for his first of the year.
Of the Homer Heroes, only Yoan Moncada failed to have three hits on the day, with his bomb being his lone hit of the day.
The Arkansas Travelers started Saturday’s game against the Corpus Christi Hooks with a quick offensive start. Ian Miller accepted a free base from Dean Deetz, Jay Baum followed with a single. Miller stole third base and then came home on a Kyle Waldrop sacrifice fly. It would all go downhill from there.
Deetz followed the Waldrop fly with eight consecutive outs, before Waldrop drew a walk to start the fourth. However, he was quickly erased on a double play, and Deetz would follow up with four more outs before his day ended after five. Jacob Dorris was a bit more wild than Deetz, walking two Travelers and giving up a single to Jay Baum in his two innings of relief. However, Kevin Comer was perfect in his two innings of relief, striking out a quartet of Travelers.
Jay Baum had the only two hits for the Travelers, with the rest of the team going 0-for-23 with four walks and a sacrifice fly,
Corpus Christi tied the game in the second before scoring three runs in the fifth to put the game out of reach. The Hooks would pick up two more in the eighth to win 6-1. Jon Singleton led the offense, going 3-for-3 with a homer and a walk.
The Double Walk Walk-off
The Modesto Nuts entered the bottom of the ninth inning ahead of the Lake Elsinore Storm, 9-6. But no lead is ever safe in the wind-swept plains of the California League. However, rallies rarely come more nutty than this Storm comeback.
Modesto started the ninth by bringing Spencer Hermann to the mound, and he proceeded to get the leadoff batter, Austin Allen, to pop out. Ty France and Javier Guerra followed with singles. Taylor Kohlwey then topped one down to third baseman Logan Taylor, who threw wildly to first. France and Guerra both scored on the error, and Kohlwey – credited with a single – ended up on third. Clearly rattled, Hermann walked Peter Van Gansen. It would be his final batter of the game as he was replaced by Lukas Schiraldi, son of former MLB reliever Calvin Schiraldi.
With the game-tying run on third and the potential winning run on first, Schiraldi knuckled down to strike out pinch hitter Alan Garcia. But then, disaster struck. Schiraldi hit Michael Gettys to load the bases. His wildness extended to the next batter, as Chris Baker walked to first and Kohlwey walked home with the tying run. The ninth batter of the inning would either send the game to extras by making the final out of the inning, or end the game. Josh Naylor did the latter, taking ball four from Schiraldi, bringing in Van Gansen from third for the walk-to-first walk-off win.
It was a quiet storm in the ninth – a true station-to-station affair – that cracked the Nuts.
After four innings at Perfect Game Field, the hometown Cedar Rapids Kernels were popping with excitement, gaining a five-run advantage over the Beloit Snappers. But the combination of Dakota Chalmers and Andrew Tomasovich kept the Kernels off the board the rest of the way – and six runs turned out not to be enough against the men from Wisconsin.
Beloit trimmed the deficit to three with two in the fifth, but were stymied by starter Sean Poppen in the sixth and seventh. Andrew Vazquez allowed a single Snapper run in the eighth, but the Kernels still held a two-run advantage heading into the ninth inning.
In the ninth, Cedar Rapids turned to Tom Hackimer to finish the game. He started quickly, setting JaVon Shelby down on strikes. But he then allowed a single to Edwin Diaz, a walk to Cole Gruber, and another single to Luis Barrera with Diaz scoring, and the lead was down to a single run. The lead that was once five evaporated completely when Eric Marinez lifted a fly ball to left field, as Gruber tagged up from third and scored the sixth Beloit run. Hackimer could still get out of the inning without a deficit, but Nate Mondou bid that thought adieu with a triple to right which scored Barrera and placed the Snappers into the lead. Hackimer finally was able to record the final out, with Miguel Mercedes grounding out to first to end the frame.
The Kernels had one more chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Tomasovich put down Aaron Whitefield, Ariel Montesino, and Travis Blankenhorn in order to give Beloit the comeback, 7-6 victory.
On any given Saturday, in any given town where minor league baseball is being played, a narrative is being written. The games documented above are certainly not the only interesting games played on April 8, 2017. Lakewood scored seven runs in the final three innings to defeat Kannapolis in 10 innings. Oklahoma City scored four runs in the ninth… but needed five to tie Iowa. Fresno walked off against Reno. Binghamton and Dunedin each had a seven-run inning. And then there were the other 50 games whose highlights and lowlights could also have been featured.
As we did last season, the Minor League Report will continue to highlight the teams, players, and games played all across the minors, from the Sea Dogs in Maine to the myriad of teams in California, from the LumberKings in Iowa to the entire Texas League. We hope you enjoy reading about these stories as much as we enjoy writing about them.