Bulls Best Bombers in Record Breaker

It was a baseball-bashing bonanza in Brooks.

When the dust finally settled - shortly before 11 pm on Tuesday, June 4th at Elks Field - the Lethbridge Bulls and Brooks Bombers had produced a Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) record 57 runs during the 31-26 victory for the Bulls.

Needless to say, it was a wild night and one that resulted in a new league high for total runs scored and runs scored by a winning team.

Historically, the game fits somewhere between the Major League Baseball (MLB) record set in 1922, when the Chicago Cubs defeated the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 26-23, and the minor-league benchmark that saw the Buffalo Niagaras destroy Columbus by a final tally of 209-10 in 1869.

Closer to home, the Pioneer League runs record was established in 1984 when the Medicine Hat Blue Jays narrowly defeated the Great Falls Dodgers at Athletic Park during a 24-23 victory for the Baby Jays that was dubbed the "slugfest on the south Saskatchewan" river.

The fans in Brooks were treated to two-dollar hot dogs throughout the game thanks to a promotional offer from the Bombers. As it turned out, they would need the sustenance to make it through a game that lasted four hours and 26 minutes.

There were plenty of jaw-dropping stats from the boxscore to chew on, as well. Both clubs combined for 49 hits, nine errors, 18 walks, 12 wild pitches, 11 hit batters and 28 runners left on base. There were 14 home runs that left the yard, including nine for the Bombers and five for the Bulls, and 13 pitchers were sent out for mound duty during the game. Only one batter - pinch hitter Roberto Chaparro of the Bulls - failed to register a hit in the contest.

BATTER UP!

Hitters went to work early in this contest, with the Bulls scoring six runs on four hits and an error. Starting pitcher Killian McLaughlin was unable to get an out and was replaced by Japanese righthander Tomoki Jitsukawa. McLaughlin was ultimately tagged with the loss, and Lethbridge winning pitcher Brayden DeWitt outlasted all hurlers by going 4.1 innings.

The Bombers used the long ball to get back into the game in the bottom of the first inning, with outfielder Kelton Phillips smacking a two-run blast and first baseman Jacob Gillis following up with a solo shot to make it 6-3 for the visitors. A bat flip from Phillips drew the ire of the Lethbridge dugout, resulting in warnings from the umpiring crew.

The bats of the Bulls were just starting to heat up. A trio of three-run homers from Carlin Dick, Tyler Monroe and Ryan David helped Lethbridge put a 10-spot on the board in the second inning. Another three runs in the third pushed the Bulls lead to 19-4.

"Giving up six early is never ideal, but then when your down 16-3 heading into the bottom of the second I kind of knew this would have to be an explosive game. You figure with the Bulls up by thirteen early they wouldn’t send their premium arms out this early in the week, so there’s always a chance, and the way the Bombers have been swinging it of late I had a feeling early on this could be crazy," observed Lochlan McTeague, the play-by-play voice of the Bombers on HomeTeam Live broadcasts.

As unlikely as a Bomber bounce back seemed, Brooks went to work. The Bulls had paraded around the bases en masse, but the Bombers were ready to turn the matchup into a slaughterhouse slugfest.

Brooks manufactured three runs in the fourth inning, and round trippers from Dylan Bordayo and Gillis helped generate another nine scores in the fifth frame. During his four-plus innings, DeWitt struck out seven batters and threw 108 pitches to 32 batters.

Two-thirds of the way through the game, Lethbridge saw their lead cut to 29-22. A touchdown typically seems like enough of a cushion, but there was nothing typical about this night.

BOMBS AWAY

The Bombers added four more runs over the next two innings. Phillips launched his third long ball of the night and collected his sixth RBI of the game in the eighth inning to reduce the lead to 29-26.

"It was honestly a crazy experience," said Phillips, who took note of the windy conditions early.

"I just wanted to stay short to the ball and put the ball in the air ... my approach was to find any way to get on base so I could help my team come back and win. Yes, I did believe we could comeback with the offense we have."

With the touchdown lead down to a field goal, Brooks loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

"As the game went on both teams were really active in the dugout. I know that as the game approached the final few innings every Bomber was standing outside the dugout not even on the top step. They were constantly pumping each other up and it made it exciting and put a lot of pressure on the Bulls late," said McTeague.

Outfielder Jouseph Gelpi stepped in the batter's box with the hopes of completing the improbable comeback with the bags full for Brooks. It was Rory MacDonald, however, who came through with a seemingly rare triumph for the battered pitchers on this blustery evening. MacDonald ended the threat by inducing a swinging third strike from Gelpi and both sides returned to their dugouts to regroup for one final inning.

The Bulls added a pair of runs in the top of the ninth and the Bombers managed to get two runners aboard in the bottom of the ninth, but two-way player Jack Kalisky - who went 4-for-7 as the designated hitter for Lethbridge with four runs and four RBI - set down the final batters to end the game.

Final score: Lethbridge Bulls 31, Brooks Bombers 26.

POST-GAME REACTION

The aftermath of the game left the Bulls breathing a sigh of relief and everyone involved still amped up from all the activity.

"Something that will stand out from that game is the fact our team didn’t just give up when we were down 13 by the second inning, and our energy was up all game," said Phillips.

Will Bomersbach, a catcher for the Bombers who sat out the game but had a front-row view of the mayhem from the home dugout, couldn't believe what he just witnessed.

"It was absolutely insane, definitely the most unreal baseball game I've been a part of, for sure," said the backstop from San Antonio, Texas.

"Credit to our guys because we were down pretty heavy, pretty early - we stuck with it, we battled all the way back ... it just felt like every pitch, we were in the ball game and the energy levels were up from inning one to inning nine."

Carlin Dick, a veteran first baseman and outfielder with the Bulls, described it as "one of the weirdest baseball games" he'd ever participated in and confessed that he was nervous about the final outcome.

"Yes, I was a bit worried we might lose towards the end of the game in about the seventh and eighth innings. Tough in a ballpark where any ball hit in the air to the outfield has a high chance of going over the fence ... definitely a whirlwind trying to stay focused for a game that long," said Dick, who was one of five Lethbridge players to go yard.

"Defense wasn’t too terribly bad. A lot of the fly balls hit ended up being homers anyway."

A few of Dick's teammates were playing in their first game in the WCBL, including Monroe and David, who both swatted homers and piled up hits during the contest.

"We mostly just told them, 'Welcome to the WCBL, boys,'" said Dick.

Before the game was over, it was generating attention on social media and online. Several comments were made comparing the run production to that of a football game.

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?

A lot of people were left wondering how the score could get this out of hand.

There are a number of contributing factors that can be identified.

Elks Field, the home of the Bombers, is the smallest ballpark in the WCBL, measuring 365 feet to the centre-field wall and 310 feet down each base line. When Riley MacDonald, a catcher with Brooks, set a new single-season home run record with 20 long balls in 2018, the feat was met with some skepticism.

The gusts that were described as "extreme west winds" in the game's official boxscore also likely played a role in the results.

"Honestly, I could hardly see with wind blowing in my eyes," said Phillips.

Weather reports indicated the wind speed varied from 35 kilometres-per-hour to over 60 km/hour over the course of the game.

"It was one of those games where the wind was blowing out, so everything that was up in the air had a shot," confirmed Bomersbach.

McTeague also felt the strong breeze in the broadcast booth.

"It felt like a punch, counter punch game all night and the wind certainly didn’t help. I think it affected the pitchers command and caused more balls to be left up in the zone," said McTeague.

Meanwhile, the WCBL welcomed a new supplier of baseballs this season. Diamond Sports entered a two-year agreement with the league to provide teams with their D1-CL LS model - described as the "ultimate baseball" - for this season and the 2025 campaign.

“Hopefully we’re going to treat the fans to more home runs, more doubles, more triples and harder hits. We’re happy with this baseball that we’re going to showcase this year,” said WCBL President Kevin Kvame of the deal with Diamond Sports.

Since the 2024 season began in late May, several WCBL teams have reached the double-digit mark in runs scored on a number of occasions.

Dick acknowledged the wind's impact on the blowout victory for Lethbridge over Brooks, but also pointed to the new baseballs as a factor in higher run production.

"I definitely think the new baseballs are contributing - last year the baseballs were a little softer and the games were a little more low scoring, but definitely the new balls and the Alberta and Saskatchewan air are causing some high-scoring affairs," he said.

Some of the answers may remain up in the air, but the hitters appear to be having a ball early on this season.