It may not be the top story in baseball this week behind all the chatter about ear-biting and alleged sign-stealing, but the Giants and Rockies having their game suspended on Thursday certainly has a lot of baseball fans talking.
The baseball talk shows were filled with “what-ifs,” as in, what if a player is hurt or traded between now and the time the teams resume the game in September? It’s not that big of a deal, especially since the players called up to the majors when rosters are expanded on Sept. 1 will be eligible to participate in the resumed game, but strange things can happen.
And they did happen in Modesto when a game was suspended in Modesto 13 seasons ago.
On May 28, 2001, the Modesto A’s and Visalia Oaks - both at the time affiliates of Oakland - got four outs into their game at Thurman Field when it was discovered the infield was unfit for play. A water main running under the infield had burst, and the baseline about 20 feet toward first base from home plate was pretty close to quicksand.
The game had to be picked up at a later date, which turned out to be July 26, or about a month into the second half of the season.
Modesto’s primary catcher that season was Gerald Laird (a major league journeyman currently with Atlanta,) who replaced the Modesto catcher of the previous two seasons, alleged erstwhile ear-biter Miguel Olivo.
The backup catcher to Laird in 2001 was Aaron Nieckula, who went on to manage in the Oakland organization. Nieckula started behind the plate for Modesto in that May, 2001 game, and collected a hit for the A’s before the game was suspended.
On June 2, Nieckula was transferred by Oakland from Modesto to Visalia. It wasn’t a common action and the California League frowned upon such moves, but the move was made.
When the game resumed on July 26, Nieckula wasn’t in the lineup for Visalia, but entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and promptly singled. Because all statistics in suspended games count, Nieckula gets credit in baseball history for collecting hits for both teams in a single game.
That was far from the only weirdness made possible by the suspension.
Laird started the game in May as Modesto’s right fielder, but was in the lineup at third base when it resumed. With the blessing of manager Greg Sparks (currently the hitting coach in Sacramento,) Laird moved from third base to second, to shortstop and then to first base, spent the seventh in left field, the eighth in center and finished the game behind the plate, thus playing all positions but pitcher in the same game.
And here’s the really bizarre thing that happened.
Shane Bazzell was Modesto’s original starting pitcher in May, but he pitched seven innings the night before the resumption and was not available.
So when the game was completed, Mike Wood (who ended up in the majors – 2003-07 – with Oakland, Kansas City and Texas) was on the mound for the A’s. He got Modesto through the sixth inning and got the victory when Modesto pulled out a 6-4 decision.
The twist? Wood was selected by Oakland in the 10th round in 2001 out of the University of North Florida, but because of the suspension was the winning pitcher in a game that took place on May 28 - a full two weeks before he was drafted.