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Grand slam highlights wild minor league comeback

It has been eight days since the Clinton LumberKings rallied from a 17-1 sixth-inning deficit to defeat Burlington 20-17 in a Class A Midwest League game.

It happened it Iowa, where time has been known to stand still. So it’s like it happened yesterday.

They’ll be talking about it years from now in barbershops back there, and under those bridges in Madison County.

It was wild, it was woolly. This is how the minor league baseball blogger from Sports Illustrated put it:

“The three-hour, 28 minute game featured horses, a man on fire, grand slams by both teams’ catchers, a key homer by Burt Reynolds, five innings with at least five runs scored, and a save by Clinton’s starting second baseman.”

I think he was kidding about the horses and the man on fire.

You would think a baseball game this awesome would have a Las Vegas angle. I couldn’t find one. Not even a Las Vegas ad on the backstop behind home plate at Community Field, the Burlington ballpark. But the catcher from Clinton who hit the grand slam that tied the game at 17-all is from just up the road in St. George, Utah. Close enough.

You would think that after Clinton fell behind 17-1 after five, the LumberKings would just start swinging at everything, so they could get out of there before the Burger King closed.

Not so said Marcus Littlewood, the switch-hitting Clinton catcher who played at Pineview High School in St. George and was a second-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2010.

To heck with Burger King and the $4.98 Midwest League per diem, or whatever it is.

“To be honest with you, it was good,” Littlewood told an ESPN reporter about the mood in the Clinton dugout after falling behind 17-1. “We kept putting good at-bats together, kept chipping away at the lead. Our energy was good.”

Chipping away at the lead is something a team does when it is down 6-1. Putting good at-bats together is something Tommy Lasorda might say in that situation, because Lasorda was always upbeat.

This was bigger than that. This was bigger than those grain silos you can see for miles in the Midwest League.

After turning up the energy to Three Mile Island level, this is what Marcus Littlewood said: “Yeah, down 17-1, are you kidding me? It was awesome.”

The Clinton team scored six runs in the sixth inning, five in the eighth, five in the ninth. Littlewood smacked a double in the sixth. In the ninth, his grand salami to center field tied it at 17. Slow-pitch softball players high-fived one another and popped open another Pabst Blue Ribbon.

They showed a homemade video of Littlewood’s slam on “Good Morning America.” The crack of the bat sounded like a thunder clap, probably because Littlewood hit that ball a ton, and probably because there were only 558 people in the stands when the ballgame began.

A young woman cried “Yes!” You could hear the Clinton dugout go crazy, folks, go crazy.

When it was over after 12 innings, the Clinton team had scored 19 unanswered runs.

It was an amazing comeback, even more remarkable than Tony Conigliaro hitting 20 homers and knocking in 82 runs a year and half after getting beaned in the eye by Jack Hamilton, if you ask me. But then I’m not a Red Sox fan.

It beat the major league record for greatest comeback by four runs.

On Aug. 5, 2001, the Cleveland Indians became the third big league team to rally from 12 runs down, overcoming a 14-2, fifth-inning deficit to beat the Mariners 15-14 in 11 innings.

And yes, there was a Las Vegas tie. Marty Cordova, who played at Bishop Gorman, hit a home run for Cleveland in the eighth inning trimming the Seattle lead to 14-8.

A night after the Clinton team came all the way back from 17-1 down, the Las Vegas 51s hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Salt Lake Bees. It was a depressing couple of nights for minor league teams named Bees, for that is also what they call the Burlington ballclub.

“Luckily I got a pitch I could drive and I didn’t miss it,” said Marcus Littlewood, hitting .345 with 3 homers and 21 RBIs for the LumberKings, about belting that grand slam into the darkness of an Iowa night that caused a young woman in the stands to cry “Yes!”

So no, it’s never over until it’s over, or until a fat lady sings, or any other cliche one can think of. It’s not even over when it’s 17-1 after five innings, at least not in the Class A Midwest League, where farmers rise early to plant corn and the Burger Kings close at 11.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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