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Cal Ripken Jr. knew he was in for a special night back on April 18, 1981, when Pawtucket's Sam Bowen smashed a fly ball in extra innings that everyone assumed would end the game.
"It's a bomb way over my head, and I don't even bother turning around because I figure it's out of here and the ballgame's over," Ripken told the Democrat and Chronicle in 2001. "But the wind blows the ball back into the park, and (center fielder Dallas Williams) catches it.'"
A discouraged Bowen trotted past Ripken on his way back to the home dugout at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.
"Cal, I got all of that," the right fielder said, "and I still couldn't get it out. It's going to be a long, long night.'
Longer than anyone ever would imagine. The game would last 33 innings and wouldn't end until 65 days later, with Pawtucket's Dave Koza driving in the winning run off Steve Grilli to give the Red Sox a 3-2 win. It remains the longest game in baseball history and was the subject of the 2011 book: Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball's Longest Game. The book was written by New York Times columnist Dan Barry.
The game featured two future Hall of Famers at third base - Ripken and Pawtucket's Wade Boggs - plus big-league stars Rich Gedman, Bob Ojeda, Bruce Hurst and Marty Barrett. Ripken went a dismal 2-for-13 (and of course played the entire game), but Williams was worse. After boasting to teammates before the game that he was 'ready to turn this slump around,' he went 0-for-13 - the worst single-game batting performance in baseball annals.
"There were several of us who had bad weeks in that game," Ripken joked, though not referring to Red Wings pitcher Jim Umbarger. He threw an amazing 10 innings of scoreless relief, allowing four hits and no walks. Boggs would go on to win five American League batting titles and was in good form that cold night, going 4-for-12.
The game began at 8:25 p.m. on that Saturday, after a 30-minute delay to fix a bank of lights that were out. The first six innings were scoreless, as Rochester's Larry Jones and Pawtucket's Danny Parks shut down opposing bats in cold and windy conditions. The Wings finally broke through in the seventh, when Chris Bourjos singled home Mark Corey. Pawtucket tied it in the bottom of the ninth. A Chico Walker double was followed by a wild pitch from Jones and then a Russ Laribee sacrifice fly. That would be Laribee's highlight for the 33-inning marathon. The designated hitter went 0-for-11 and struck out seven times, the first player in baseball history to do so.
Rochester nearly scored in the top of the 11th, but Boggs flagged down a shot destined for the left-field corner. It remained scoreless until the 21st when Rochester's Dave Huppert, who would catch all 32 innings that blustery night, hit an RBI double. Boggs' RBI double in the bottom half scored Koza and evened the score. Boggs' big hit was met with mixed reactions in the home dugout. 'I didn't know if the guys on the team wanted to hug me or slug me,' he said.
The game continued. And continued. And continued. PawSox manager Joe Morgan was ejected in the 22nd inning for arguing a bunt call, but not before he had sent reliever Luis Aponte home. Aponte had pitched four shutout innings in relief, striking out nine. Morgan let the right-hander leave to rest up in case he was needed the next day.
The pitcher would have been better off staying at the ballpark. It was 3 a.m. Easter Sunday when he walked in his apartment. "Where have you been?" Xiomara Aponte asked angrily. To which her husband innocently responded, "At the ballpark."
"Like hell you have," his wife replied. Luis spent the night on the couch.
Although International League rules dictate that games must end or be suspended by 1 a.m., home plate umpire Dennis Cregg's rule book was not the updated version and didn't contain that clause. So the game went on. At the start of the 30th inning, the game broke the minor-league record of 29 set on June 14, 1966 in a Florida State League game that saw the Miami Marlins prevail 4-3 over the St. Petersburg Cardinals at Al Lang Field in St. Pete. That game took 6 hours, 59 minutes to complete. As the Red Wings-Pawsox marathon dragged on, players began burning benches in the bullpen and broken bats in the dugout to stay warm.
The unluckiest person at McCoy that night was Red Wings radio broadcaster Bob Drew. There was no bathroom in the press box, and Drew was working alone so he didn't have time to run down to the concourse. An empty soda cup came in handy as the innings dragged by.
It wasn't until after 3 a.m. that IL president Harold Cooper was reached on the phone, and he ordered play stopped at the end of the current inning. Play was halted at 4:07 after 32 innings. There were 19 fans left from the original crowd of 1,740, and all received lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium from Pawsox owner Ben Mondor.
The game resumed on Tuesday, June 23, when the Red Wings returned to town. By then, the major-league baseball players had gone on strike and a sellout crowd of 5,746 fans and 140 reporters from around the world were present. The players voted against an offer to resume the game at Fenway Park to avoid crossing the picket line.
This time, it took only one inning and 18 minutes to finish the game. The Pawsox loaded the bases against Grilli, who wasn't even with the Wings for the first 32 innings. Cliff Speck relieved Grilli, and Koza greeted him with a single to left, scoring Marty Barrett with the - wait for it - winning run.
The 33-inning extravagana took 8 hours, 25 minutes to complete. A total of 882 pitches were thrown, 53 runners were left on base (30 by Rochester) and Koza - the ultimate hero of that marathon - fittingly had the most with five.
In 2006, members of the Red Wings and Red Sox attended a reunion in Pawtucket to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that amazing game. Among the 360 fans from the Pawtucket/Providence area who attended the reunion was Carl Bishop, then 74. The retired chief executive of a Rhode Island hospital summed it up best for many when he told reporters: "I listened to that game on radio until it was tied after the ninth inning. I thought 'This game could go on forever,' and I turned it off and went to sleep. And I was glad, because it did go on forever."