The longest baseball game took 33 innings to win (2024)

June 23rd, 2023

The longest baseball game took 33 innings to win (1)

Brian Murphy

@Spokes_Murphy

The 1,740 fans in attendance to watch the Triple-A game between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox on April 18, 1981, would be forced to wait before even a single pitch was thrown.

The evening’s matchup was delayed due to darkness as four faulty light towers inside Pawtucket’s aging McCoy Stadium failed to illuminate the field below. While the issue was addressed, everyone inside the dusty and rusty building was bathed by a strong, biting wind blowing in from center field. It was Easter Eve, and maybe some were already thinking that they should have stayed at home.

However, after about 30 minutes, the lights began to do their duty. The first pitch arrived at 8:02 p.m. Right-hander Danny Parks fired one past Rochester second baseman Tom Eaton. Home-plate umpire Denny Cregg called out a strike for all to hear.

Pawtucket third baseman Wade Boggs got in position for the next offering while Rochester third baseman Cal Ripken Jr. planned for his upcoming at-bat. Everyone was prepared for what was to come.

But really, no one was prepared for what was to come. Over the next eight hours and 32 innings, these teams would fight off pitches and exhaustion. Night would turn to day, and no winner would be crowned.

This is the story of the longest professional baseball game ever played.

Fire in the bullpen

The early innings unfolded as any normal baseball game would. Parks and Rochester starter Larry Jones were on their game and kept the scoreboard still. The drama at this time was contained within the Red Wings’ bullpen, where reliever Steve Luebberpurposely started a fire in a 55-gallon drum to keep warm during the brisk evening in Rhode Island.

Luebber made a trade with kids who were standing along the chain-link fence behind the bullpen: baseballs for timber. The youngsters jumped at the chance and returned with all sorts of kindling, including posts from a nearby picket fence. Soon, each dugout also had its own amateur fire pit, lighted with the help of broken bats and even pieces of wood that the players ripped off from McCoy Stadium’s 40-year-old benches.

The action on the field picked up in the seventh inning as left fielder Chris Bourjos singled home designated hitter Mark Corey, giving the Red Wings a 1-0 lead.

Rochester’s advantage held into the bottom of the ninth. It was about 11 p.m. There were maybe 1,000 fans remaining in the stands. A postgame spread of seasoned chicken, pasta and salad was ready for the visitors. Just three more outs.

After inducing a groundout, Jones allowed a double to left fielder Chico Walker. According to Dan Barry’s book, “Bottom of the 33rd,” this was when Rochester manager Doc Edwards came out to chat with his starter. Edwards told Jones that with how hard the wind was blowing, “the only thing that can hurt us is if you screw up somehow.”

Jones’ next offering was a spiked curveball that skipped past catcher Dave Huppert.

Walker moved up to third on the wild pitch and scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Russ Laribee. The Red Sox then mounted a two-out rally, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Mike Ongarato, but the game was ticketed for extra innings once he went down swinging. Although Ongarato was disappointed in the moment, he would later own his strikeout with some pride saying, “If I get a hit, it’s just another game.”

That postgame spread would turn to mush.

‘That doesn’t mean [expletive] to me’

While many fans decided they had seen enough for one night, hundreds more stayed in their seats, buzzing about the prospect of free baseball. What would it bring them?

Relievers Jeff Schneider and Luis Aponte posted zeroes in the first of many extra innings. Midnight struck during the 13th inning, which led to a message blaring out from the public address system: “From the Pawtucket Red Sox, Happy Easter.”

Meanwhile, the chilly New England air tightened its grip around those on the diamond. Rochester right fielder Drungo Hazewood said that the inside of his eyes got cold. Crew chief and third-base umpire Jack Leitz’s hands were turning blue by the 15th inning.

But there was a saving grace to all of this. According to International League rules, no inning can begin after 12:50 a.m. Everyone on the field knew this. Certainly the umpires knew this; it was stated in the rule book for every season, and the umps followed that to the letter.

Once the 15th concluded at about 12:45 a.m., Pawtucket owner Ben Mondor and general manager Mike Tamburro conferred with the three umpires and confirmed that the 16th would be the final inning tonight. After that, a curfew would be in order.

"No," said Leitz.

No?

“I read the league manual for umpires front to back and there’s nothing about a curfew,” he would later tell the UPI.

And he was right. Although it’s not clear why, the little paragraph stating the International League’s curfew rule did not appear in the 1981 manual. It was there in past years. It would be there in future years. But for 1981, it was somehow overlooked and forgotten. When Tamburro then presented Leitz with a copy of the league’s constitution, which displayed that important piece of text, Leitz responded, “Mike, that doesn’t mean [expletive] to me. There is no curfew. It’s not in our manual.”

This was now a runaway baseball game and it was close to going off the rails.

“We were resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to score. Neither team,” Boggs said in the ESPN 30 for 30 podcast episode on the game. “We couldn’t even get on base.”

33 innings. More than eight hours. 11 pitchers. 59 strikeouts. 218 at-bats. 36 hits.

On this day in 1981, the @RocRedWings and Pawtucket Red Sox began one of the most ridiculous baseball games of all time. It took two months to finish.https://t.co/AV3j7IgOga pic.twitter.com/uFSp7TPeVv

— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) April 18, 2022

The spring wind is a prankster

Tamburro began phoning International League president Harold Cooper at his home in Grove City, Ohio. He could overrule the umps. However, Tamburro's initial calls -- much like the at-bats on the field -- proved fruitless.

In the 21st inning, with free hot chocolate and coffee now available to the 50 or so spectators remaining, Rochester broke through. Right fielder Mike Hart reached via a single and stood on third with two outs as Huppert came up. The catcher lofted a ball into center field that seemed harmless at first glance, yet as the wind carried it, the sphere fell out of the reach of Lee Graham. Hart scored on the wind-aided double, and Rochester was again on the edge of victory.

But the weather didn't play favorites.

In Pawtucket’s half of the inning, first baseman Dave Koza hit a lazy fly toward the right side. Eaton sprinted out from second base and then suddenly darted back toward the pitcher’s mound. A ball that he thought might be handled in the outfield by Hart ended up coming to rest in front of the infield dirt. A double for Koza -- and two for Mother Nature in the inning.

Boggs then slapped a pitch into the left-center gap, much like he would do countless times en route to 3,010 big league hits. Koza scored. The game was tied. It was 2 a.m.

“Instead of cheering, you have everybody moaning,” Tamburro said. “‘Oh my god, are we going to continue this?’ Yeah, we were.”

  • The longest games in AL/NL history

Someone call the cops

The next 10 innings featured zero runs, but a plethora of small stories that elevated this event into baseball’s theater of the absurd.

• Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan was ejected in the 22nd inning. He argued to no avail that a fair ball hit Rochester’s Dallas Williams while he was out of the batter’s box and so he should be out. The umpires threatened to call the cops if Morgan didn't get off the field, to which he replied, “Where the hell are you going to get a cop at this hour?"

• But at least one person was calling the police. Cregg brought his 10-year-old nephew, David, to this game. By 2:30 a.m., David’s mother in Massachusetts was searching frantically for her missing son. Her calls to local and state police turned up nothing. She then called the Rhode Island state police and was given a short explanation: “Extra-extra innings. Go back to bed.”

• Up in the press box behind home plate, which Barry described as a “suspended mobile home,” official scorer Bill George was tallying statistics with a third different pen. His scorebook contained only 12 innings, and he scored those “early” frames in blue ink. Then, beginning in the column for the third inning, innings 13 through 22 were jotted down in red ink. Before the start of the 23rd, George switched to black ink.

• Press box steward Bill McCourt decided to cut off the stadium’s music, which had been playing the same six songs between innings all night long. The tunes included Sammy Davis Jr.’s “The Candy Man” and John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” McCourt told the Boston Globe, “We figured whoever was left had heard enough.”

• Aponte, who was removed from the game in the 11th inning and was allowed to leave the stadium in the 18th, was finally let into his house by his wife, Xiomara, sometime around the 27th inning. When he first showed up and explained that baseball was why he was home so late, Xiomara shouted, “You lie!” and shut him out. He spent the next handful of innings back at McCoy Stadium before trying his luck again.

• Rochester pitcher Jim Umbarger, who entered in the 23rd inning and threw 10 scoreless frames, wrote: “In the 29th inning, about 3:15 in the morning, I came into the clubhouse to get warm, and Jeff Schneider, who left the game in the early innings, says ‘Jeez, you guys still playing? We have already showered, dressed, had a few beers, gone to sleep and gotten back up and have hangovers already.'"

• Rochester outfielder John Hale looked around at the 20 or so fans still watching this interminable slog in the 31st inning. The clock was closing in on 4 a.m. According to Barry, Hale digested this quiet, strange moment and muttered to himself, “You are truly troubled souls.”

Here comes the sun

After nearly 15 innings of trying and failing to reach the International League president, Tamburro’s phone call and prayers were answered just before four in the morning. Cooper was on the line and asked to speak with Leitz.

It was the top of the 32nd. Rochester had placed runners on first and second with one out. Fielders were waiting for pinch-hitter Ed Putnam to step back into the box after calling for time; Boggs placed his head on third base as if it was a pillow during the short break.

Then Leitz turned and vanished. He missed the next six pitches, during which time Putnam struck out.

Once the crew chief returned, he signaled to the other umpires that this was the final inning of the night. Just then, Eaton lashed a ball through the right side for a base hit. Hale jetted away from second, rounded third and rumbled for home. Pawtucket right fielder Sam Bowen charged the ball and unleashed a throw not indicative of someone who had spent eight hours on the frigid field. It was a perfect strike to the plate, and catcher Roger LaFrancois tagged Hale out with ease.

In the bottom of the 32nd, Pawtucket went down in order as the sun began to rise up. The PA announcer spread the word: This game was now suspended.

It was 4:09 a.m. After 8 hours and 7 minutes, there were no winners. To call it a marathon would undersell it. About 24 hours later, Japan’s Toshihiko Seko would win the Boston Marathon in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 26 seconds.

The game's restart was scheduled for June 23, prior to that day’s regularly scheduled game between these two clubs inside McCoy Stadium.

The last one out of the building on April 19 was Mondor, who locked up at 5:15 a.m.

“It was the first time I’d ever driven home from a night game with my headlights off,” he told the Boston Globe.

35 years ago this weekend, baseball's longest game began. Rochester & Pawtucket suspended after 32 innings tied 2-2 pic.twitter.com/6blSHWJnIv

— Sean Lahman (@seanlahman) April 15, 2016

Conclusion

June 23, 1981. It was a big day in the city of Pawtucket, R.I. Like, really big.

“Not since the time they had to shoot the drunken camel at the city zoo has there been this much excitement in Pawtucket,” Bill Minzesheimer wrote in the morning’s Democrat and Chronicle.

The Pawtucket Red Sox would typically field 5-7 media requests per game. For the restart of the longest professional baseball game ever, it handled about 150. Radio stations from Chicago, Baltimore and Boston carried the game, and the Armed Forces Network sent Chicago’s broadcast around the world. Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun provided coverage. Television stations such as ABC, NBC, CBS and BBC were present. The parking lot around McCoy Stadium was full an hour before game time.

Thanks to the uniqueness of the event combined with the Major League Baseball players’ strike that began 11 days earlier, Pawtucket, a small mill town located 45 miles south of Boston, was the center of the baseball universe.

“It would be the biggest baseball game, probably the biggest sporting event in the country that day,” Tamburro told ESPN.

A crowd of 5,756 jammed in to see the end of this historic game. If it would indeed end.

At 6:06 p.m. ET, Pawtucket’s Bob Ojeda threw the game’s second first pitch. His strike to Williams was recorded by George in green ink. Williams popped out, making him 0-for-13 in the box score. Ripken followed with a clean single up the middle before Ojeda struck out Floyd Rayford -- the 60th K of the game -- and got John Valle to fly out to left.

To the bottom of the 33rd.

Rochester right-hander Steve Grilli found himself in trouble quickly. He plunked second baseman Marty Barrett with his first pitch and then permitted a single to Walker that put runners on the corners. Laribee was next up and although he was 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts, he was intentionally walked. The bases were loaded for Koza.

“I’ve been thinking about the 33rd inning ever since the 19th [of April],” Koza told the UPI. “I’ve been dreaming about it. Having the bases loaded was a dream for me. I think anyone would have liked to have been in my shoes.”

Facing new pitcher Cliff Speck, Koza lunged at a 2-2 curveball and pulled it into left field, over Ripken’s head. Barrett scampered home, raised his fist in triumph and gave Boggs a high-five as he stepped on the plate, 18 minutes after the restart.

On this date 38 years ago, the PawSox and the @RocRedWings began the longest game in baseball history. The game was called after 32 innings, and when we resumed play on June 23rd, Pawtucket’s Dave Koza drove in the winning run. https://t.co/tDhxF3Torb @baseballhall #otd #milb pic.twitter.com/oy3TETlI0p

— Pawtucket Red Sox (@PawSox) April 18, 2019

Koza never made it to the Major Leagues, but his bat and the ball he sent into the outfield made it to Cooperstown. “I don’t know of anything I’ve ever been involved with that really compares to this -- except maybe getting married,” he said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America" the day after the win.

Speck, for allowing the decisive hit, likened himself to Ralph Branca.

Twenty-five years later, Ripken told The Washington Post: "All the guys who played in that game -- it's something we share. We were all in the same boat, trying to make it to the big leagues. A lot of us 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."

Eight hours and 25 minutes. That was what it took for the Pawtucket Red Sox to defeat the Rochester Red Wings, 3-2. There was little time for celebration or reflection immediately after the triumph on June 23. For one thing, a pipe had burst inside the Red Sox’s clubhouse and was flooding lockers. But more importantly, that evening’s regularly scheduled game was still to come.

Rochester won, 7-6. It took nine innings.

The longest baseball game took 33 innings to win (2024)
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