- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

When minor league pitcher Luis Aponte arrived home after 5 a.m., saying he had come directly from the ballpark, his wife understandably refused to let him in. He had to return to little McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., and sleep in the clubhouse.

Of 1,740 fans who were present at the start of business between the Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings, only 19 remained when it was suspended after 32 innings at 4:07 a.m. (Each was rewarded later with a season pass.) Two months and five days later, the game was completed, ironically, in just one more inning.

Fourteen pitchers combined to throw more than 1,000 pitches, strike out 60 and work 29 scoreless innings of what amounted to a quadruple header.

Cal Ripken, then a brown-haired 20-year-old third baseman for Rochester, was one of 25 players who survived the game and subsequently reached the major leagues. He went 2-for-13 and later said, "I was so glad when I got a single in the last inning because I knew my average was going to take a big hit."

Over eight hours and 25 minutes on April 18 and June 23, 1981, the two Class AAA International League teams staged their epic duel before the PawSox escaped with a 3-2 victory. On first a blustery spring night and then a blistering summer one, they were playing the longest game by innings in 106 years of Organized Baseball.

Ripken, who the following year started his record streak of playing 2,632 consecutive games for the Baltimore Orioles, had lots of company in the Iron Man department and some had even worse nights. Rochester teammate Dallas Williams went 0-for-13. Red Wings catcher Dave Huppert crouched behind the plate for ouch! 31 innings.

Huppert, now a manager in the Florida Marlins' minor league system, claims he still feels the aches and pains from that game. In a recent interview, he told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, "At one point, I looked back at the home plate umpire [Jack Lietz] and said, 'Would you please call 16 straight balls so we can end this thing and get some sleep.' "

The game started 30 minutes late because of electrical problems on a raw Saturday evening. By the time it mercifully was suspended, players in both dugouts were burning bats to keep warm and some early rising children probably had started looking for Easter eggs around their houses.

Pawtucket skipper Joe Morgan, later to manage the parent Boston Red Sox, had enough of the nonsense by the 22nd inning. He managed to get himself ejected for arguing an umpire's call undoubtedly the smartest move of the night.

Actually, the game should have been called hours earlier. But Lietz somehow did not have a copy of the league's revised curfew rule no inning to start after 12:50 a.m. so the marathon dragged on until Pawtucket general manager Mike Tamburro finally tracked down league president Harold Cooper. (Maybe Cooper's wife shouldn't have let him in the house that morning.)

One reason the game took so long was that the PawSox kept rallying. Pawtucket scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to tie it 1-1. Rochester regained the lead in the top of the 21st when the creaky Huppert doubled home a run, but the Sox tied it again in the bottom half on a double by third baseman Wade Boggs later a five-time American League batting champion with Boston.

And on they went. On and on and on.

In the 22nd inning, left-hander Jim Umbarger came in to pitch for Rochester and worked 10 shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing just four hits. Said Ripken in a recent interview: "He gave new meaning to the term 'long relief.' "

At one point, Umbarger told Ripken to be alert to the possibility of a bunt. Replied young Cal, just a little snippily: "I've been watching for the bunt for 23 innings now."

If the first part of the interrupted game was bizarre, the second 65 days later was equally so. With journalists gathered from all over the nation and from as far away as Japan the major leagues were on strike by that time the denouement required just 18 minutes.

"There was a real buzz in the park that night," Ripken recalled for the Rochester newspaper. "Back in April, we just wanted the game to end. Now we really wanted to go out and win this thing because we knew the game was one for the history books."

A crowd of 5,746 collected at McCoy when the game was resumed on the Red Wings' only other visit of '81. Veteran pitcher Steve Grilli, with the Toronto Blue Jays back in April, took the mound for Rochester in the bottom of the 33rd inning. He hit Marty Barrett with his first pitch, and Chico Walker singled Barrett to third. After an intentional walk, Cliff Speck was summoned from the bullpen. Then first baseman Dave Koza slapped a single to left field and …

IT WAS OVER!

An ironic recording floated over the P.A. as the PawSox celebrated: Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?"

It was more than enough. By contrast, the longest game in major league history was a mere 26 innings when the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves played to a 1-1 tie on May 2, 1920.

Four years later, on June 19, 1985, Pawtucket was at it again, going 27 innings against the Syracuse Chiefs before winning 3-1. Noted Tamburro, who was still the PawSox general manager, "We're undefeated in games over 25 innings."


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