Generals clinch First Half North Division title for second time in three years

 

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Kevin Medrano set the tone for the Generals in the First Half, homering in his first at-bat of the year. Medrano would go on to collect more than 70 hits in the First Half, earning a nod to the Southern League All-Star Game in Birmingham. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

 

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – The Jackson Generals clinched the Southern League’s 2018 First Half North Division title on Friday evening with a 3-1 victory over the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, capping an impressive First Half under first-year manager Shelley Duncan. A selection of the standout moments and numbers from the First Half are listed below.

 

FIRSTS

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Jon Duplantier (Photo Credit: John Sewell)

>>Debut by a No. 1 D-backs Prospect: Jon Duplantier pitched five innings in his April 21 Double-A debut against Chattanooga, marking the first time a Diamondbacks top prospect played for the Generals. Duplantier worked 35.2 innings in the First Half, dealing to an ERA of 2.52 with a 1.12 WHIP and a .221 opponents’ batting average with 41 strikeouts.

 

 

>>MLB Rehab start made at home by a Diamondback: Shelby Miller’s June 4 start

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Shelby Miller (Photo credit: Jessica Huber)

against the Tennessee Smokies was the first time a current Arizona Diamondbacks player had ever played in front of the home crowd at The Ballpark at Jackson. Miller threw 4.2 innings against Tennessee, allowing one run while walking four and striking out six. The Generals held on, 2-1 (F/7).

 

 

 

>>Generals pitcher tapped to start the All-Star Game since 2012:

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Taylor Widener (Photo credit: Danny Parker)

Right-hander Taylor Widener’s stellar First Half earned him the respect of Birmingham manager Ryan Newman, who tapped Widener to start the All-Star Game on the hill. Widener’s presence on the rubber on Tuesday, June 19 will be the first time a Generals arm has started the All-Star Game since Mariners prospect Danny Hultzen started the 2012 SL All-Star Game at Smokies Stadium in Sevierville, Tenn. Widener twice reached single-game double-digit strikeout totals in the First Half, leading the league with 89 over 67.2 innings.

 

 

APRIL

15-2 | Leaning on a versatile veteran lineup to support a talented pitching staff, the Generals set a franchise record with a 15-2 mark in their first 17 games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Birmingham, and Chattanooga. No full-season MILB team won more of their first 17 contests than Jackson in 2018.

 

9 | Jackson’s 15th win of the year came in the second game of a double-header sweep against Chattanooga, and it marked the team’s ninth win in a row. Contained in that nine-game spree:

>> 5 | a five-game sweep of the Birmingham Barons

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Galli Cribbs (Photo Credit: Cody Cunningham)

>>10 | total bases from Galli Cribbs on April 18, becoming the first General to hit for the cycle since Abraham Almonte in 2013

 

>> 6.0 | Jackson pushed their lead over the North Division to six games with the last victory, which came in the back end of a double-header sweep of second-place Chattanooga. Alex Young carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning of game one. Marty Herum won game two with a walk-off 2-run single, rescuing a Generals bullpen that surrendered a 4-1 lead one inning before.

 

 

 

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Generals infielder Marty Herum was one of five players injured in late April/early May that critically impacted Jackson’s performance. Herum hit .323 with 15 RBI in his first 18 games before going on the disabled list. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

 

 

5 | Long-term Injuries the Generals suffered in the eleven days (April 24-May 4) that followed their nine-game win streak. Infielder Marty Herum, outfielders Ben DeLuzio and Jay Gonzalez, and catchers Matt Jones and Alberto Rosario were all sent to the disabled list, effectively ruled unavailable for the remainder of the First Half. In a particularly rough turn of events, Herum was activated from the DL on May 10 at Chattanooga, but a re-aggravation of his injury during play that night forced him to return to the DL the next day. Gonzalez, who had previously spent time on the DL before returning to action on April 26, was sidelined for a second time on May 4 and did not return before the All-Star Break.

 

MAY

7 | Consecutive losses suffered by the Generals between May 6 and May 12. With a 5-game road series sweep by Chattanooga sandwiched between a series-finale loss to Montgomery and a series-opening loss to Mississippi, the Generals fell out of first place in the North Division. By the end of the Mississippi series, Jackson’s ERA in 15 May games was 5.17, while their WHIP had climbed to 1.48. The Generals stood 4.5 games out of first place after dropping their May 16 finale to Mississippi.

 

79% | In their series at Pensacola (May 17-21), Generals starting pitchers dug deep. Justin

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Ryan Atkinson’s best start May came against Pensacola, when he threw six shutout innings with ten strikeouts to help the Generals win their fourth straight. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Donatella, Alex Young, Taylor Widener, Ryan Atkinson, and Jon Duplantier all pitched six or more innings in their respective starts, combining to throw 34.0 of 43.0 (79%) innings while allowing just three earned runs to the Blue Wahoos. Despite batting only .219 in the series, the Generals outscored Pensacola 22-4, recording their second five-game sweep of the year.

 

 

 

 

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Kevin Medrano (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

61 and 16 | League-leading totals in hits and doubles recorded by Generals infielder Kevin Medrano before being placed on the disabled list on May 24. Jackson’s second go-round with Birmingham (May 23-27) did not go like their first, as the Generals dropped a 3-2 series while losing Medrano, outfielder Jason Morozowski, and pitcher Mason McCullough to the disabled list before heading back on the road to face Montgomery on May 29.

 

 

 

 

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Juniel Querecuto was one of the Generals most important players in the First Half, holding down third base in Marty Herum’s absence while batting a league-best .373 before being promoted on June 8. (Photo Credit: John Sewell)

 

.302 and .145  | With the addition of league-leading hitter Juniel Querecuto (.373 batting average) to the Jackson disabled list on May 30, Jackson had enough DL players on May 31 to field an on-paper lineup. Had they done so, the Generals would have batted .302 and held opposing hitters to a .145 batting average, pitching to a 1.72 ERA. In the face of massive roster depletion due to injury, the Generals still gave themselves a chance ot win their series against Montgomery. However, the Biscuits won the June 2 rubber game, making Jackson 0-5 in rubber games in the First Half. After winning their April 21-25 series against Chattanooga, the Generals dropped six of their next seven series, but in a tight North Division, they stood only 1.5 games back of Chattanooga entering June 3.

 

JUNE

2 | Number of three-run homers hit by Domingo Leyba in Jackson’s series against Tennesee, helping the Generals split an up-and-down six-game set to boost the Generals into first place in the North, just ahead of a scuffling Chattanooga squad. Leyba, who arrived in Jackson on May 17 after starting the year on the disabled list, slashed .322/.403/.525 through his first 15 games with Jackson, scoring 12 runs in that span.

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Domingo Leyba (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

 

0 | Number of career extra-base hits at Double-A recorded by Generals catcher David Sopilka before the Generals’ game against Tennessee on June 7. With Jackson down to their last out and trailing 5-4, Rudy Flores popped up a seemingly routine fly ball to left field, but an improbable error by Tennessee’s Eddy Rodriguez allowed the ball to drop, with Flores reaching second base. Sopilka, pinch-hitting after only six previous at-bats at Double-A in his career, smacked a game-tying RBI double to force extra innings. The Generals would walk-off with a 6-5 victory in the tenth inning, when Jose Queliz singled on a deep fly ball to right field to score Jason Morozowski for the miraculous comeback. Jackson stood alone in first place for the first time since May 9.

 

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Justin Donatella (Photo Credit: Kate Wyman)

1999 | Last time the Generals witnessed a no-hitter before June 14, 2018. Dave Manning’s July 22, 1999 no-no was as the only no-hitter in franchise history before Justin Donatella, Daniel Gibson, Kirby Bellow, Kevin Ginkel, and Brad Goldberg combined for their own hitless magic against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp in a 6-0 shutout. The victory for the Generals showcased both a quietly strong First Half from All-Star right-hander Donatella (57.1 IP, 3-3, 3.30 ERA) as well as the strength of a refreshed Generals bullpen. Along with Bud Jeter, the three-man weave of Gibson, Ginkel, and Goldberg combined for 5 holds, 4 saves, 3 wins, a 0.93 WHIP and a 0.54 ERA in 33.1 IP between May 16 and June 15.

 

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Joel Payamps (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

5:04 | Time, in hours and minutes, of rain delays impacting the first three games of the Generals’ First Half series at Jacksonville. After withstanding two delays of exactly one hour and forty-eight minutes on June 13 and June 14, Shelley Duncan’s club stayed focused after their June 15 contest got underway one hour and twenty-eight minutes after its scheduled first pitch. When it did, right-hander Joel Payamps worked into the seventh inning before allowing a Jacksonville run, and the Generals backed him up, winning 3-1 to secure their second First Half North Division title in the space of three seasons.

8 | Midseason All-Stars: Taylor Widener, Rudy Flores, Kevin Medrano, Juniel Querecuto, Jamie Westbrook, Justin Donatella, Mason McCullough, Galli Cribbs

3 | Player/Pitcher of the Week Winners: Taylor Widener, Jon Duplantier, Jamie Westbrook

1 | Diamondbacks Minor League Player of the Month: Galli Cribbs (April)

 

 

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Status Update 5/26: Super Hero Night Heroics Requested

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Taylor Widener may as well wear a cape: The right-hander leads the Southern League with 70 strikeouts in 10 starts, and the Generals are 8-2 in games where he has pitched. (Photo credit: Danny Parker)

On Friday evening, the Generals collected their 28th win in 2018, staying right in the hunt for the North Division’s First Half title with a 5-2 victory over Birmingham. It was a strong example of the formula they’ve used of late to win games: strong starting pitching, veteran hitting, and clean defense. Even while missing six of their position players, the Generals have soldiered their way to the third-best record in the league, bouncing back from a 6-16 mark in late April and early May to 7-3 over their past ten games. It’s not easy to do that when:

*Both of your Opening Day catchers are hurt.

*Your second baseman–the league leader in hits and doubles–is hurt.

*You’re missing your RBI-happy third baseman.

*Two of your Opening Day outfielders–who each led the league in steals–are down.

Not only have the Generals found ways to accomplish their nightly missions–they’ve done it with a variety of personnel that might make a Cirque de Soleil crew gasp. Here are a few of their super heroes:

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Generals third baseman Juniel Querecuto (Photo credit: John Sewell)

*JUNIEL QUERECUTO: A former Montgomery Biscuit (2015/2016), he’s had a tremendous start to the year and has become a stabilizing force at third base in Marty Herum’s absence. He’s the Southern League leader in batting average, and he’s the top General in OPS and stolen bases as well. Beyond his ability to play three different infield positions at an above-average level, Querecuto also sports the best line-drive rate in the league according to FanGraphs.com, stroking 28.5% of his hits on frozen ropes. Querecuto has as good a case for a spot in June 19’s Southern League All-Star Game as any other third baseman in the league.

*TAYLOR WIDENER: Arriving in Arizona in February after being traded from the New York Yankees, Widener has done nothing but make opponents eat strikes. According to FanGraphs.com, Widener’s got the highest difference between strikeout percentage (36%) and walk percentage (8%) in the league, at 28%. What’s that mean? He the guy who’s most likely to ring you up, and you’ve got the smallest chance of getting on base for free. Widener’s fastball-slider-changeup mix has been toxic for hits, too–Widener is one of only three pitchers holding opposing hitters to a batting average beneath .200. If he keeps this up, there’s a chance he’ll see Triple-A Reno competition before the year is out.

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Generals left-hander Gabe Speier (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

*GABE SPEIER: Quietly earning the Diamondbacks’ Double-A Pitcher of the Month in April, Speier has continued to prove a reliable left-handed option for the Generals. What Speier does well sometimes is difficult to see, but consider this: Speier keeps the ball on the ground, and he’s rarely allowed hard contact. Speier has allowed fewer than 10% of hits against him to be line drives, and his 64% ground ball rate is among the league’s best. Speier may be a long shot to earn a spot in the Southern League’s All-Star Game because of a lack of stand-out statistics and a few rough outings in late May. That being said, he’s a guy who can be an important piece on a Southern League Championship team–the Generals will likely feature a sure-handed Speier if they get that far.

 

 

Status Update on the Generals 5/22: A Week In Florida Does A Body Good

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Justin Donatella and Alex Young set the tone for the Generals’ rotation in Pensacola, where the squad went 5-0 and gave up just 4 runs over five games. (Photo Credits: Kyle Carter/Cody Cunningham)

Two weeks into the 2018 season, the Jackson Generals’ starting rotation looked rock solid. The Generals starters–which included three of the Diamondbacks’ top 30 prospects in Jon Duplantier, Alex Young, and Taylor Widener–were in the midst of helping the team net series wins over Birmingham and Chattanooga. Shelley Duncan’s crew was en route to a franchise-best 15-2 start to the season, and the pitching staff’s 2.64 ERA in April was far and away the league’s best mark.

These seasons, however, are long, and streaky, as the team soon found.

Injuries to the team’s catchers certainly impacted the Generals’ arms. After losing Alberto Rosario and Matt Jones, the Generals rotation seemed to destabilize, as their ERA skyrocketed and they lost 10 of their next 13 games. It didn’t help that the team’s best reliever, Colin Poche, was plucked from the staff to complete a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Combined with a rash of injuries to the Generals’ offense, the pitching staff’s woes produced a lousy record that had only been temporarily hidden by an uptick in early-season runs scored. At the close of Jackson’s series with Mississippi on May 18, the Generals had not won a series since April 23. Things needed to change.

Whether it was simply the Floridian sunshine, a scuffling opponent, or something entirely unmeasurable, the Generals were able to hit the ground running in Pensacola. Justin Donatella set the tone in game one by working through a rough 2-run first inning and finishing seven innings without allowing another run. The Generals trailed by two at the time, but the Pensacola bullpen capsized over the final two innings, allowing Jackson to steal a 3-2 victory after 5 walks, a hit, an error, and a hit batsman in the span of six outs. The game was suspended due to rain just after the go-ahead run crossed home for Jackson, but Gabe Speier managed to earn the save when play resumed on Friday.

Donatella’s determination proved critical to the Generals’ victory, and the rest of the staff seemed to base their marching orders off the Californian’s efforts. Alex Young followed  by delivering eight shutout innings in Game 2, and Taylor Widener fired eleven strikeouts in a series-clinching victory in Game 3, giving the Generals their first series win since April 23. Ryan Atkinson and Jon Duplantier would join their brethren with six-inning shutout efforts each, as Jackson clamped down late in the series on a scuffling Pensacola offense.

The rotation finished the series 4-0 with an 0.62 ERA, throwing 34.0 of the 43.0 innings worked over the five-game set (with game 5 shortened due to a rain delay and travel concerns). In the sweep, the Generals climbed within 1.5 games of first-place Chattanooga in the North Division, sidling up to the Lookouts entering the final 25 games of the season’s First Half. If the Generals can manage to get similarly strong performances down the stretch from their rotation, they will be in position to vie for the First Half crown. They’ll begin the stretch run with a five-game visit from the Birmingham Barons–whom they swept in mid-April–before a day off and a trip to Montgomery. With any luck, Doug Drabek’s staff can be as formidable as any unit in the league by the time June rolls in.

Status Update on the Generals: 5/12/18 – Some Weeks, You Just Can’t Win

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“Skipper, this has been a pretty rough week. What can we do?” / “Same thing we do every night, Westy: Try to score more runs than the other guys.” (Photo Credit: Cody Cunningham)

Life can be a preposterously unfair thing. On April 24, you might wake up on top of the Minor League Baseball world, off to the best start in franchise history at 15-2. And yet, you could very well wake up 18 days later and find yourself scuffling through a six-game skid.

Yep, sounds like baseball. Streaks happen when you play every day.

As they arrive home to take on the Mississippi Braves on May 12, the Jackson Generals are mired in a 2-8 opening to the month of May, having fallen 2.5 games behind Chattanooga in the standings after being swept out of East Tennessee in a five-game set.

The biggest reason? Injuries. Five Generals position players–infielder Marty Herum, catchers Matt Jones and Alberto Rosario, and outfielders Jay Gonzalez and Ben DeLuzio–have landed on the disabled list since the Generals’ 15-2 start, and losing more than half of your starting lineup always stings.  Herum and Gonzalez have had the worst of the luck, as each one has already been placed on the DL twice in the 2018 campaign.

In their auspicious April, the Generals went 17-7, scored 5.6 runs per game, held a .793 OPS, kept opponents to a .218 batting average, and allowed 2.64 earned runs per game.

In their migraine-inducing May–which has featured just eight total at-bats from the five injured players–the Generals are 2-8, scoring 4.2 runs per game, holding a .711 OPS and allowing opponents to hit .289 against them while giving up 5.56 earned runs per game. If you’re defense-minded, Jackson’s may has upset you as well: they’ve made five errors in the past four games alone, costing themselves 4 runs in the process. (This, after a month of April in which they made 12 errors total.)

One thing that hasn’t come along as quickly as many hoped: the work of the Generals’ starting rotation. In their last 10 games, they have allowed 35 earned runs in 48 innings, an ERA of 6.56. Three of the starters–Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener, and Alex Young–are ranked in MLBPipeline.com’s Top 30 Arizona Diamondbacks prospects. It’s still early in the year, and Widener and Duplantier are pitching their first full seasons at this level.  Young looks a bit more comfortable, having won four times and thrown the most innings of anybody in the rotation thus far. But nobody will argue that a 6.56 ERA will do the Generals no favors, especially when hamstrung by a banged-up lineup.

Here are the Generals’ best performers in their ten May games (30+ AB or 5.0 IP):

*INF Kevin Medrano –  .941 OPS, 16 H, 4 D, 6 RBI, 2 BB

*INF Juniel Querecuto – .900 OPS, 13 H, 5 D, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 2 SB

*UTL Jose Vinicio – .707 OPS, 12 H, 3 D, 1 T, 3 RBI

*LF Jamie Westbrook –   .882 OPS, 11 H, 6 D, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB

*LHP Kirby Bellow – 0.00 ERA, 5.0 IP, 7 K, 1.00 WHIP, .111 BAA

*RHP Joel Payamps – 3.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 2 K, 1.00 WHIP, .227 AVG

Last time this squad played Mississippi (in late April), they dropped a 3-2 series, but Querecuto–the active Southern League Leader in batting average, currently at .382–went 9-for-20 against M-Braves pitching. On the hill against Mississippi, Duplantier was one of five Generals pitchers to work 2.0+ innings and not allow an earned run, joined in that category by lefty Gabe Speier and right-handers Yoan Lopez, Mason McCullough, and Joel Payamps.

The M-Braves have six of MLBPipeline.com’s Top 30 Atlanta Braves prospects on their team, including starting pitchers Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint, and Bryse Wilson. They also feature former Mariners prospect Alex Jackson behind the plate, joined by left fielder Travis Demeritte and bullpen arm Josh Graham. Mississippi is managed by Chris Maloney, and the former St. Louis Cardinals third base coach has them off to a 15-20 start (4-6 in May).

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE JACKSON GENERALS, you can:

-Log on to JacksonGeneralsBaseball.com

-Call 731.988.5299

-Check out our SoundCloud archive with manager Shelley Duncan – SoundCloud.com/JacksonGenerals

-Follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: “at”JacksonGenerals or Facebook.com/JacksonGenerals

Status Update on the Generals: 5/1/2018

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Generals right-hander Jon Duplantier, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ No. 1 prospect, has won his first two starts at Double-A, striking out 14 batters in 10.0 innings. (Photo Credit: John Sewell)

It’s official: If you’re a Generals fan–and by reading this, you are, whether you know it or not–you’ve never seen a start to the season quite like the Generals had in 2018. First year manager Shelley Duncan guided the club to a Minor League Baseball-best 15-2 mark in their first 17 games, helped by an impressive nine-game winning streak. Jackson had the nation’s top team!

How does a squad with no position players ranked in Arizona’s top 30 prospects shoot to the top of Minor League Baseball?

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Status Update on the Generals: 4/13/18

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Right-hander Taylor Widener struck out eight batters in his five-inning start vs. Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Danny Parker – @TheDannyParker on Twitter/Instagram)

The 2018 Jackson Generals are off to a hot start, beginning their first campaign under manager Shelley Duncan with a 6-1 record. In their opening series against the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Generals tore the cover off the ball offensively in their first two contests, scoring a total of 21 runs across 32 hits in a pair of wins. Over the three contests that followed, Jackson went 2-1 despite scoring only six runs. The West Tennessee bunch pulled off back-to-back walk-off wins against the Jumbo Shrimp to improve to 4-1, helped by 14 consecutive scoreless innings from their bullpen over the last four games of the series. Continue reading

2,414 vs. 1: Ryan Atkinson’s stunning rise to 2018 Spring Training

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The 2016 MLB Draft spurred Ryan Atkinson to prove he could still pitch. Nineteen months later, he has a 2018 MLB Spring Training invitation in hand. (Photo credit: Cody Cunningham)

Two years ago, Ryan Atkinson wasn’t pitching. He was a patient services manager at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, moving on with post-mound life. Nineteen months later, the right-hander is trying to pull off an improbably fast rocket ride to the Major Leagues. As a non-roster invitee to Major League Spring Training, he has a shot to make the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2018 Opening Day roster.

Go back to the 2015 MLB Draft. 632 pitchers and 579 position players were selected, but of those 1,211 picks, only 11 have already made their Major League debuts. Baseball fans know some of those names: Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Paul de Jong, Dansby Swanson, and Ian Happ all came from the 2015 draft. There’s even a former General, 2016 Jackson hurler Andrew Moore, in that elite eleven.  To ascend quickly, you have to be special, and people usually know it. Those six were chosen in the top four rounds.

Ryan Atkinson, a 2015 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, was not among the 1,211 draftees in 2015. Nor was he one of the 1,214 draft choices in June 2016 (634 of whom were pitchers). He hadn’t thrown a baseball in the twelve months prior to the 2016 draft.

Atkinson signed with Arizona–undrafted in eighty rounds over two years–in 2016. He ranked 13th in Minor League Baseball in strikeouts in 2017.

How does that happen?

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