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Long Memories From a Baseball Classic
After 25 Years, 33-Inning Game Remains Fresh for Those Who Played

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Begin with the box score, which, if box scores are like artwork, is the Sistine Chapel. Gaze at the artist's masterstrokes, the grand, virtuoso flourishes -- in this case, a pair of monumental last names, Ripken and Boggs, both of which share the designation "3b." Twenty-five years later, these two names would be the famous touches that give this celebrated piece its historical heft.

But as with any work of genius, the brilliance is in the details.

Take your time. Let the eye take you where it will. Recoil at the odd, all-caps designation at the top: "COMPLETION OF SUSPENDED GAME (April 18)." Pore over the lineups and pitching lines, stopping at each familiar name: Gedman, Barrett, Rayford, Hurst, Ojeda, all of them future big leaguers.

Linger upon the incongruities, which your keen, experienced eye discerns immediately. Take a moment to ponder poor "Williams cf," whose batting line reads 13 0 0 0 -- an 0-fer for the ages. Marvel at the pitching line for Umbarger: 10 4 0 0 0 9. Move your gaze to the very bottom, to the time of game: 8:25. Say it out loud: Eight hours 25 minutes.

Finally, contemplate the ungodly line score:

There is an epic to be told from those two lines of type alone: Pawtucket's tying run in the bottom of the ninth. Rochester's go-ahead tally in the top of the 21st -- after 11 straight scoreless frames -- followed immediately by the horror of another tying run for Pawtucket in the bottom half. Then 23 more infernal zeroes -- 12 for Rochester, 11 for Pawtucket -- before that single, majestic, tall, thin digit, "1," which spelled the merciful end in, yes, the bottom of the 33rd inning.

If it stirs something in you, if it leaves you wanting more, it is not unlike any other great work of art. This, then, is the rest of the story -- the story of The Longest Game in History:

The box score, as brilliant as it is, falls short in some respects. It does not, for instance, convey how incredibly cold it was that Saturday night, April 18, 1981, in Pawtucket, R.I., where the home town PawSox were hosting the Rochester Red Wings -- the Class AAA affiliates of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, respectively.

"I'll never forget how cold it was, and how hard the wind was blowing -- straight in," said Marty Barrett, the PawSox' second baseman, who went on to play parts of 10 seasons in the majors. "You felt it as soon as you got out there. We all just wanted the night to go real fast."

The box score also does not denote the game's start being delayed by about 30 minutes because of a problem with the lights at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium, where a crowd of 1,740 had gathered. By the time the whole affair ended, at precisely 4:07 a.m. the next morning -- when someone finally had the good sense to suspend play -- there were less than two dozens fans still on hand, each of whom was rewarded with a season ticket.

And when the game was resumed more than two months later, it took place in front of a sellout crowd of 5,746, and on a national stage -- with 140 media members on hand, many of whom had little else to do, since Major League Baseball players were on strike that summer.

In the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle the next morning, the game story began, "Not since the time they had to shoot the drunken camel at the city zoo has there been this much excitement in Pawtucket."

"I remember they wanted us to play the continuation of the game at Fenway Park," recalled Pawtucket third baseman Wade Boggs. "But we as players voted not to cross the [picket] line."

It took exactly one inning on June 23, lasting exactly 18 minutes, to finish the game. After the Red Wings were retired in the top of the 33rd, the PawSox loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom half on a hit batsman, a hit-and-run single and an intentional walk.

On a 2-2 curveball from reliever Cliff Speck, Pawtucket first baseman Dave Koza singled to left field to end the game.

"It was like a gift to me," said Koza, who went 5 for 14 in the game. "Bases loaded, nobody out, and Wade Boggs on deck. There was no pressure on me."

It was, and still remains, the longest game in history.

The winning pitcher, following a scoreless frame in the 33rd, was Pawtucket's Bobby Ojeda, who -- back in April -- had pitched the night before the fateful game, and thus had been unavailable. The losing pitcher, with zero innings pitched, was Rochester's Steve Grilli, who had been in another organization when the game began, and who wound up here because of a waiver claim.

To this day, Grilli, who loaded the bases in the bottom of the 33rd, can still see the disappointed faces of his teammates when he walked off the mound after getting yanked.

"What it took them eight and a half hours to accomplish," Grilli said, "I undid in about two minutes."

That part is not in the box score, either.

Precursor to Hall

Boggs, 22 years old when the game started and 23 when it ended, was Pawtucket's third baseman and top hitting prospect. His Rochester counterpart was Cal Ripken Jr., a 20-year-old phenom who some in the Orioles organization believed might eventually be moved to shortstop. Neither would have impressed anyone seeing them play for the first time that day, particularly Ripken, who went 2 for 13.

"A lot of us," Ripken joked, "had a bad week that day."

While many of the game's artifacts, including the official scorer's scorecard, eventually wound up in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Boggs and Ripken got to Cooperstown by other, more glorious means.

Boggs, a career .328 hitter in 18 big league seasons, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, while Ripken went on to play in a record 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles -- a feat that has its own Cooperstown treatment -- and is expected to be elected to the Hall on his first ballot as part of the Class of 2007.

"All the guys who played in that game -- it's something we share," Ripken said. "We were all in the same boat, trying to make it to the big leagues. A lot of us [25, to be exact] went on to the big leagues, and we were able to accomplish a lot of great things, but I think everyone would agree, myself included, that that moment was as special as anything else we've done."

Special? Try telling that to Dallas Williams. He's the poor "Williams cf" from the box score, the guy with the 13 at-bats and all zeroes -- no runs, no hits, no RBI. Only a generous official scorer -- who credited Williams with a pair of sacrifices on one-out bunts that could be more accurately described as failed attempts to bunt for hits -- kept him from going 0 for 15.

For the following two months, as the teams awaited the continuation of the game the next time Rochester traveled to Pawtucket, Williams carried around the baggage of that 0 for 13, knowing that as soon as the game was completed -- thus making official the individual statistics -- his batting average would take a major hit.

"It went down about 15 points," Williams said bitterly. "I consider that day the worst day of my baseball life."

Out at Home

If you're walking in your front door at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning and you have not called your wife to tell her where you have been, you're taking your marriage into your own hands. But Luis Aponte figured that on this night, of all nights, it would be all right.

Aponte, a right-handed reliever for Pawtucket, threw four dazzling, scoreless innings of relief that night -- the seventh through 10th innings -- and some time after 2 a.m., with no end in sight, Pawtucket Manager Joe Morgan allowed him to go home.

What happened next is part of the lore surrounding that night, the story told and retold in various versions. As the story goes, Aponte was confronted at his front door by his wife, Xiomara, who wanted no part of his explanation that he had been at the ballpark all night.

"Yeah, it's true," Aponte said recently in a telephone interview from Venezuela, where he is a scout for the Cleveland Indians. "She didn't believe me. Whenever we had a game, I was usually home by 11:30."

Aponte finally convinced his wife to let him in, promising that the morning newspaper, with its account of the extra-long game, would prove his story correct. Of course, the game went too late to make the paper, so there was no such proof, and Aponte was forced a second time to plead with his wife to believe him.

It took another entire news cycle -- until the Monday newspaper hit the doorstep -- for Aponte to convince his wife, once and for all, that he had been telling the truth.

"She finally believed me," he said. "But it wasn't easy."

Flaming Benches, Tempers

In the bullpen of the old wooden stadium, the pitchers were tearing up the benches and burning them in a 55-gallon drum. In the dugout, some position players were doing the same thing with broken bats.

"My whole job at that point was trying to keep people warm," said Richie Bancells, who was Rochester's athletic trainer and now does the same job for the Orioles. "And at the same time, we were trying to keep the players fed. We had this clubhouse kid, and we had him out trying to scrounge up some food. I don't know where he was finding it, but he managed to find some."

"By around 12 or 1, it seemed like a lot of us got our second wind," said Pawtucket's Barrett. "We felt that way for two or three innings. But then all of a sudden, you hit a wall. By 4, we were almost delirious. . . . We went through the whole cycle of emotions: Exhausted, angry, punch-drunk."

Somewhere in the middle of the game -- which is to say, in perhaps the fifth or sixth hour -- Sam Bowen, Pawtucket's slugging right fielder, hammered a towering fly ball to center that looked like it would end the game.

"We thought to ourselves, 'Uh-oh,' " said Rochester pitcher Steve Luebber. "It looked like that was it. Our guys all started walking to the dugout."

Williams, Rochester's center fielder, swears the ball actually left the ballpark before being tugged back into play by the relentless wind.

"It was gone," Williams said. "But it came back in, and I caught it."

"Sam circled around in front of our dugout," Ripken said, "and he said, 'Boys, that's as good as I can hit it. If that one didn't get out, we're going to be here awhile.' "

In the top of the 21st, Rochester took the lead on an RBI double by catcher Dave Huppert. But Pawtucket tied it again in the bottom half when Boggs doubled home Koza. There were groans everywhere, even from the Pawtucket dugout.

"And then," Boggs said, "we played for another three hours."

Sometime shortly after p.m. became a.m. -- after what was once fun had become tiresome -- and with the windy, cold conditions making it all but impossible to generate offense, folks began to wonder if there was a curfew provision in the rule book that would have stipulated that umpires to suspend the game.

As it turns out, there was -- only nobody could locate the rule. Home plate umpire Jack Lietz's rule book, which he kept pulling out of his back pocket between innings to consult, was missing the rule about curfews.

"We were getting [ticked] off at the umpires," Williams said. "Regardless about the rule book, we thought they should've been take-charge enough to do something about it. There were some guys on the edge. . . . I remember Cal was one of them -- he could get the [temper] with the best of them. He wasn't too happy about it."

Sprinkled throughout the game were stories of individual heroism. Rochester lefty Jim Umbarger entered the game in the 23rd inning, and proceeded to throw 10 scoreless innings, allowing only four hits and no walks while striking out nine.

"He was pretty dominant," Huppert said. "He had a good curveball that night."

Huppert himself caught 31 straight innings before Rochester Manager Doc Edwards saw fit to pinch-hit for him in the 32nd.

"It took about two weeks," Huppert said, "to get my legs back to where I could function again."

Finally, Call Is Made

Behind the scenes, Lietz, the umpire, and PawSox General Manager Mike Tamburro had been trying to get hold of International League President Harold Cooper by telephone at his Columbus, Ohio, home, but -- this being the pre-cellphone (and even pre-pager) era -- were having no luck.

Finally, sometime after 3 a.m., they finally got Cooper on the phone. Told that the PawSox and Red Wings were still playing, Cooper was horrified, and ordered the umpires to halt the game at the end of the current inning, which was the 32nd.

"The whole thing," said Bancells, the Rochester trainer, "felt like some kind of screw-up."

When play was suspended at 4:07 a.m., both managers immediately sent their troops home to try to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before Sunday's game -- which, naturally, was a day game. However, as it turned out, sleep would be hard to come by for Rochester's players, in particular -- since the national media began bombarding the team hotel with phone calls as soon as word began to get around about what had occurred.

"And wouldn't you know it," Huppert said, "the hotel kept putting [the calls] through."

Williams walked off the field lugging behind him that unsightly 0 for 13 -- which remains an all-time record for single-game futility -- and headed for the clubhouse for a well-deserved beer.

"But we had this guy, Mark Corey, who had gotten taken out of the game in about the 13th inning," Williams said. "And when we got back to the clubhouse, all the beer was gone and [Corey] was hammered. I mean, hammered."

One of the youngest players on either team, Ripken needed food more than alcohol or sleep, so he went straight to a nearby Howard Johnson.

"It's the only time I ever remember our postgame meal," Ripken said, "being breakfast."

As they made their way to their houses, apartments and hotels -- with the time now around 5 a.m., and the first hint of sunrise spreading across the horizon -- players from both teams noticed something strange. Cars were beginning to roar to life. The sidewalks were clicking with the sounds of dress shoes on concrete, as well-dressed Pawtucketers were heading off to sunrise services.

It was Easter Sunday, and a glorious morning at that.

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