Here are the weirdest stats and plays from the past month in the Minors

May 7th, 2024

After a multi-season hiatus, Crooked Numbers returns with a heaping portion of Minor League Baseball on-field oddities and absurdities. This edition, covering the start of the season through the end of April, has a disproportionate number of items from the Triple-A level. As for why that is, who knows? Maybe things were just weirder at the Minors’ highest level. Or maybe this writer, rusty after taking a couple years off from writing this column, needs to dig deeper.

Let me know what I missed ([email protected]), because keeping track of this type of thing is a team effort.

Mr. March
The Triple-A season expanded to 150 games in 2023, resulting in a novel occurrence: regular season Minor League Baseball games in March. On Opening Day 2023, March 31, Worcester left fielder Greg Allen hit a fourth-inning home run. This year, now playing for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Allen topped that by hitting a home run in the first at-bat of the entire Minor League season. That leadoff dinger on March 29, which opened a matinee in Buffalo, was the only home run Allen hit until he knocked No. 2 on May 4. Over the entirety of the 2023 season, he hit four -- one in the Major Leagues and three in the Minors.

Making the most of it
On Opening Night, Rodolfo Castro blasted a three-run, walk-off grand slam for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It only counted for three runs because his teammate Matt Kroon, who had drawn a bases loaded walk to tie the game 4-4, got caught up in celebrating and never scored. (He was ultimately ruled out at second). This remains Castro’s only hit of the season -- he went on the injured list five days later.

Piling it on
On March 31, after eight innings of play, the Albuquerque Isotopes were clinging to a 9-8 lead over the visiting El Paso Chihuahuas. El Paso then scored eight runs in the top of the ninth, resulting in a 16-9 lead. Albuquerque mounted a furious two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth, even extending the game on a successful challenge of a called third strike. It wasn’t quite enough, however, as El Paso hung on for a 16-15 win. Fourteen of the game's 31 runs were scored in the ninth inning.

Upon further review, game over
In the El Paso-Albuquerque game mentioned above, a game-ending strikeout was overturned after a challenge. In April 5’s game between Gwinnett and Louisville, we saw things go in the other direction. Behold:

Two-way player
The first Sacramento River Cats player to earn two wins this season wasn’t a member of the pitching staff. That honor belongs to moonlighting infielder Donovan Walton, who picked up two wins over a three-day span, with the circumstances of each game being remarkably similar: a two-inning appearance to close out an extra-inning, 9-8 road win over the Reno Aces. On April 2, Walton didn’t appear in the game until appearing on the mound in the 11th inning. On April 4, he started at second base and hit a two-run homer before once again taking the mound, this time in the 10th. All told, he allowed just one unearned run over four innings, despite not having the most intimidating stuff:

Beware the Tides of April
Scoring 11 runs in a game is good. Losing by 15 runs in a game is bad. The Charlotte Knights managed to accomplish both feats in the same game on April 2, falling to the rampaging Norfolk Tides by the highly anomalous score of 26-11. Outfielder Kyle Stowers hit three home runs for the Tides en route to establishing a new franchise career record (44), and he wasn’t even the star of the game thanks to Heston Kjerstad’s two-homer, 10-RBI performance. Perhaps that should come with an asterisk, because Kjerstad was able to pad his stat line with an eighth-inning grand slam against position player Danny Mendick.

The Tides and the Knights weren’t done yet. Three days later, the Tides scored 10 runs in the first inning and then held on for dear life in an 11-10, 10-inning win. The losing pitcher in that game was, you guessed it, Danny Mendick. While Mendick has not fared well on the mound, note that until the White Sox placed him on the injured list over the weekend, he was thriving as a hitter. The 30-year-old veteran smashed eight home runs in his 60 at-bats in the Minors -- including a streak of five games in a row (April 16-20) in which he went yard -- and had three doubles and a homer over 10 games with Chicago before lower back tightness got the best of him.

Rampaging Bulls in Lehigh Valley
One week after the Norfolk Tides scored 26 runs in a game, the Durham Bulls did them two better. The Triple-A Tampa Bay affiliate destroyed Lehigh Valley, 28-10, in a game in which every Bulls player collected at least two hits and scored at least two runs.

Much of the damage was done during an 11-run ninth inning, in which veteran utility man Esteban Quiroz allowed nine runs while recording one out. Quiroz now has a 243.00 ERA on the season, raising his career mark (four appearances) to 61.71.

Bad day at the office
This month, when it came to allowing nine runs while recording a single out, Esteban Quiroz wasn’t alone. New Hampshire Fisher Cats right-hander Cornelius Johannes Van Eyk, better known as CJ, suffered this ignominious fate on April 28. Van Eyk started the game, and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies greeted him thusly: single, home run, single, single, single, groundout, single, single, single, double. He was then pulled from the game with the score 7-0 and runners on second and third. Both of those runners scored before the inning mercifully came to a close.

When in Rome
The Rome Braves changed their name to the Emperors this past offseason, and on March 29 they unveiled their new mascot: an emperor penguin named Julius. It didn’t take long for Julius, and the rebrand itself, to have an impact. On April 6, the first game in Emperors history, the Waddle was born.

Working overtime
In his first inning of work this season, on April 5, Caden Grice of the Visalia Rawhide struck out four batters (the third strikeout victim reached base safely on a wild pitch).

Not to be outdone, Grice’s teammate Jhosmer Alvarez recorded five strikeouts in an inning on April 23. He then struck out the first batter he faced the following frame, but that batter reached on a wild pitch. His final line: one inning of work, six strikeouts. Six of the 10 balls he threw in his 35-pitch outing were wild pitches.

Turtle power
A sequence of events in which the winning run being thrown out at home directly leads to the winning run scoring? The Daytona Tortugas made it happen:

Put a tarp on it; it's done
Because all good things must come to an end, we leave you with this: