The Clinton LumberKings have turned their season around in the last 10 days or so, battling for three comeback wins on a 7-and-3 road trip, and the capper came in last night's unbelievable victory. Trailing the Burlington Bees 17-1 after five innings of play, the LumberKings chipped away with six runs in the 6th, five in the 8th and five more in the 9th -- tying the game at 17 on a Marcus Littlewood Grand Slam -- before scoring three runs in the 12th to win 20-17. Four Clinton relievers combined to hold Burilngton scoreless over the final seven innings, allowing only three baserunners in the process.
Littlewood's game-tying homer came on a 2-and-1 fastball. "My whole goal was to get the next guy up," he told me. "I was just looking to get the ball airborne and get a run home since there was only one out." The Mariners 2nd round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, this is Marcus' third stint with Clinton. After hitting .230/.350/.366 in 60 games for the LumberKings last year, the shortstop-turned-catcher is hitting .359/.446/.564 through his first 92 plate appearances this year, and his Grand Slam was his third homer on the young year -- as many as he hit in 256 plate appearances last season in Clinton. "I'm shortening up my approach more," Marcus said when I asked about his success this season. "And I'm a lot more relaxed," than in years past, he added. "To tie the game on a grand slam was just amazing," Clinton manager Scott Steinmann told the Clinton Herald, continuing, "That's the farthest ball I've seen [Littlewood] hit yet."
Seven of Clinton's nine starters enjoyed multi-hit games, with center fielder Ian Miller and DH Justin Seager each collecting four hits and two RBI. Second baseman and 9-hole hitter Lonnie Kauppila went 3-for-6 with a double, a walk and three RBI of his own but really capped his night off by pitching a 1-2-3 bottom of the 12th inning to earn the save. The pitching appearance was the first for Kauppila as a pro, and his first time on the mound in a game in five years.
"He was nasty," Littlewood joked with me. "Changing speeds, dropping arm slot. He even shook me off!" Before taking the mound, Kauppila drove in the 19th and 20th runs of the game for Clinton. "
The improbable come-from-behind win closed out by the starting second baseman was actually the third time on the road trip that Clinton had rallied for a late win, winning once on a 3-run homer in the last inning by Burt Reynolds (Robinson Cano's cousin) and overcoming another big 5th inning deficit -- 12-4 in that one -- in another game. Prior to this road trip, Clinton was on a 5-game losing streak in which they were outscored 49-17, and also had five games rained out in that time. The morale of the club was very low. Clinton's Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations, Cheyne Reiter sees that turning now, and is excited about the potential shown by the way the club has battled. "To win those two games we won in comeback fashion," he said, "that can flip a season."
Clinton is now 16-15 on the year, six games out of first in the Midwest League's Western division, but having played more road games (20) than any other team in the league, they return home for a 10-game homestand starting tonight.
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