Epic comeback for Shank, LumberKings
The magnitude of what Zach Shank and his Clinton LumberKings teammates accomplished last Wednesday didn’t strike him until the next day.
“It didn’t really hit me how big of a deal it was until (Thursday) when you see it on the news and see it on ESPN and all that stuff,” the 2009 Warwick High School grad said. “It’s crazy.”
What the Seattle Mariners’ affiliate did was overcome an eye-popping 17-1 deficit against the Burlington (Iowa) Bees, defying remarkable odds to claim a wild 20-17 win in 12 innings in a Single-A Midwest League game.
Good Morning America, ESPN and Deadspin all took notice of the epic turnaround, which many were calling one of the biggest comebacks in minor league baseball history.
LumberKings’ catcher Marcus Littlewood, who slugged a game-tying grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to force extra innings, was interviewed by Antonietta Collins on ESPN.
“It was absolutely incredible,” Shank said of the comeback. “Mind-blowing.”
Actually, the LumberKings had shown a proclivity for comebacks less than a week earlier when they rallied from a 12-4 deficit after five innings to defeat the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers by a 16-13 score.
It was small potatoes compared to what they pulled off in front of 558 fans on a warm and breezy night at Community Field in Burlington.
“(Beating Wisconsin) was amazing, I thought, until two nights ago,” Shank said in a phone interview last Friday. “That kinda blew it out of the water.”
No one would have guessed that the LumberKings would pull it off when the Bees scored nine runs in the bottom of the fifth to break it open, 17-1.
Sitting in their dugout at that point, not even the Clinton players were necessarily thinking about making up the 16-run deficit. Their mindset was on keeping things simple.
“Offensively, we were trying not to give away at-bats, just grind them out, take every opportunity you get to try to help yourself out a little bit,” said Shank, who played second base and shortstop in the game.
In the top of the sixth, the LumberKings began to chip away with a six-run rally off of Bees’ starter Garrett Nuss and reliever Cole Swanson. It was highlighted by Shank’s first home run of the season, a three-run blast, off of Nuss to left-center.
“It was a 1-1 fastball,” Shank recalled, “and I was just trying to put a good swing on it. I got lucky enough to put it up in the air and it carried over the fence.”
Then in the eighth, the LumberKings tacked on five more runs, and suddenly they started to believe.
“The way we’ve been going lately, we’ve been able to put together some big innings, and in that eighth inning, I think the idea was kinda in the back of everyone’s mind,” said Shank, who went 3-for-6 to raise his batting average to .316. We’ve scored five in the ninth before, so at that point, that’s when it set in like, ‘Hey, we can still win this thing.’ And sure enough.”
When Littlewood slugged his grand slam in the ninth, the deficit was history.
With Rafael Pineda and winning pitcher Emilio Pagan combining to pitch five scoreless frames, it remained a 17-17 game going to the 12th. There, Justin Seager &tstr; the younger brother of Mariners’ infielder &tstr; put Clinton in front and then Lonnie Kauppila added a two-run single to make it 20-17.
“The way that happened is just incredible,” Shank said.
It got a little more incredible in the bottom of the 12th, as Kauppila, a second baseman, pitched and retired the Bees in order in his first appearance on the mound since his high school days.
Soon, news of the big comeback hit the airwaves.
ESPN and others were all over it.
“My parents (John and Cindy) have been sending me news reports on my phone and stuff like that, just kinda keeping me up to date on how many people are actually covering it,” Shank said. “There’s guys in our clubhouse interviewing people all the time. It’s pretty crazy around here.”
Bruce Morgan is the sports editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at email@example.com or at 721-4451.