Trailing by 16 runs after five innings, the Clinton LumberKings were down — in their moods as well as on the scoreboard. Then the players, all Seattle Mariners prospects hoping to one day make the major leagues, started thinking back to last weekend, when they overcame an eight-run deficit.
“We kind of had that in the back of our heads. I was like, ‘Hey, it’s not over till it’s over,’ ” second baseman Lonnie Kauppila said. “It was a long shot. But once we got into the ninth inning, it was like, ‘Hey, we can do it again.’ ”
The Mariners’ Single-A affiliate in the Midwest League started chipping away. And by the time Wednesday night’s game was over, the LumberKings had beaten the Burlington Bees, 20-17 over 12 innings, in one of the greatest comebacks in professional baseball history.
“I’m still in shock,” Clinton manager Scott Steinmann said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I’ve never been a part of that. I don’t think too many people have in the game.”
An announced crowd of 558 turned out on a warm and breezy night at 3,200-capacity Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, home of the Los Angeles Angels’ affiliate.
Burlington burst ahead with a seven-run second and made it 8-0 in the fourth. After Clinton scored in the fifth, the Bees added nine runs in the bottom half to take a 17-1 lead.
“The coach had a meeting with us a couple days ago saying it’s a long season, we need to grind out at-bats. That was my mindset,” said Clinton designated hitter Justin Seager, the 21-year-old younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager.
Clinton had rallied Saturday from a 12-4, sixth-inning deficit for a 16-13 road win against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Milwaukee Brewers farm team in Appleton.
The LumberKings started swinging the bats Wednesday in a six-run sixth that cut the deficit to 10. They closed to 17-12 with a five-run eighth and then got a run in the ninth on four consecutive one-out singles off Ben Carlson.
Marcus Littlewood, a second-round draft pick in 2010, followed with a moment of drama, sending a 2-1 fastball from Alan Busenitz over the wall in center field for a grand slam that tied the score at 17.
“Rounding the bases, I kind of realized what we had done,” Littlewood said. “Pretty incredible. Probably the funnest game I’ve ever been part of.”
Players came out of the dugout to meet Littlewood.
“Everybody was excited like we won the World Series,” Steinmann said.
Seager, who had four hits, put Clinton ahead in the 12th with a bases-loaded RBI grounder off Trevor Foss (0-2). Kauppila, a 22-year-old drafted from Stanford last year, followed with a two-run single.
Emilio Pagan (1-0), Clinton’s fifth pitcher, had thrown three innings. Kauppila had been told to start warming up in the 11th. He hadn’t pitched since 2010, when he took the mound for one inning as a senior at Burbank High School in California.
“Other than that, was probably eighth grade,” he said.
Clinton pitching coach Cibney Bello called former big leaguer Chris Gwynn, Seattle’s director of player development, to get permission for Kauppila to take the mound.
Kauppila was told to throw at 85 percent velocity and to stick to fastballs and change-ups.
“I wasn’t allowed to throw a slider, which was pretty unfortunate,” he said.
Kauppila got three consecutive outs on two liners and a popup. After 3 hours, 28 minutes, the epic was over. Both teams left the field with 16-15 records.
The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which governs the minors, didn’t have any records of a 16-run comeback.
The largest deficit overcome in a big league win is 12 runs, accomplished by Detroit against the Chicago White Sox on June 18, 1911; by the Philadelphia Athletics versus Cleveland on June 15, 1925; and by the Indians over Seattle on Aug. 5, 2001.
Having checked out of their rooms at the Catfish Bend Casino Resort, Clinton’s players had postgame pizza and then got ready for the 3-hour-plus bus ride home. Family members and friends sent emails and texts congratulating them.
“I told them a few minutes ago not to do it again,” Steinmann said Thursday before laughing, “because I’m tired of answering these phone calls.”