Red Sox Recall: The longest game ever

The Guru
Contributing Writer

Red Sox Recall is a new weekly feature focusing on the vast array of colorful characters that have played for and against the Red Sox, poignant moments in Sox lore and other, perhaps forgotten, memories that make up the rich history of the Olde Town Team.

This week marks the 32nd anniversary of the longest game in professional baseball history.

The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Orioles Triple-A club, the Rochester Red Wings, took to the field at McCoy Stadium on April 18, 1981 a half hour late because of lighting problems at the park. Little did they know, history was about to be made. The game was not competed until June 23, taking a total of eight hours 25 minutes and 33 innings of play. Pawtucket won the game, 3–2.

The “Longest Game Ever” was tied 1-1 after nine innings. A misunderstanding about the International League's 12:50 am curfew rule allowed the game to continue through the night and into early Easter morning before being suspended. Of the 1,740 fans in attendance at the start, only 19 fans were left in the stands at 4:08 a.m. All received lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. Many more have claimed to have been there.

12 innings later, the Red Wings took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 21st, but Wade Boggs tied it up in the bottom of the inning. Boggs later said, "A lot of people were saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we tied it, we tied it!' And then they said, 'Oh, no, what did you do? We could have gone home!'"

The weather became so cold that night some players in the bullpen were tearing up the benches and burning them in a 55-gallon drum. In the dugout, others were doing the same thing with broken bats. By the time the game was called, players were more than a little "punch-drunk" from exhaustion. Future Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman said, "When we walked off the field at 4 o'clock in the morning, it was like, 'You mean we're not done with the game yet?’”

Red Wings catcher Dave Huppert caught the first 31 innings. Pitcher Jim Umbarger came into the game in the 23rd inning and threw 10 scoreless innings, striking out nine and giving up four hits. Centerfielder Dallas Williams went 0-for-13. Future baseball "iron man", Cal Ripken Jr. joked, "A lot of us had a bad week that day."

By the time the two teams staggered off the field, all the clubhouse food was gone, and so was all the postgame "refreshments". Williams recalled, "We had this guy, Mark Corey, who had gotten taken out of the game in about the 13th inning, and when we got back to the clubhouse, all the beer was gone and [Corey] was hammered. I mean, hammered."

When PawSox reliever Luis Aponte walked in his front door the next morning he was confronted by an angry wife who wanted no part of his explanation that he had been "at the ballpark all night".

It wasn't until the Monday morning newspaper hit the doorstep that Aponte was able to convince his wife. "She finally believed me," he said. "But it wasn't easy."

Two months later the game resumed before 5,800 fans. The game also drew national attention because of the Major League Baseball strike and the history that was being made on the field that day. The end came quickly. Just 15 minutes into the bottom of the 33rd inning, a first baseman that never made it in the big leagues, Dave Koza, drove in Marty Barrett with the winning run. Koza later said, "Nothing I ever do in life will probably compare to this."

Bobby Ojeda, who later pitched against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, got the win. The losing pitcher was Steve Grilli. Grilli was not even on the team when the game originally started. "What it took them eight and a half hours to accomplish," Grilli said, "I undid in about two minutes."

The game featured two future Hall of Famers, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., an AL Pennant winning manager, Joe Morgan, and 23 other future major leaguers.

Besides the record 33 innings, the game also set records for total time for one game (8 hours, 25 minutes, most putouts by one team (99 PAW), most total putouts (195), most at-bats for a team (114 PAW), most total at-bats in a game (219), most strikeouts batting by one team (34 ROC), most total strikeouts (60), most total assists (88), most at-bats by one player in a game (14, Dave Koza, Lee Graham, Chico Walker, PAW), most plate appearances by one player in a game (15, Tom Eaton, Cal Ripken, Jr., Dallas Williams, ROC), the longest plate appearance by a single umpire (Dennis Cregg, 882 pitches over 8 hours and 25 minutes) and the PawSox Russ Laribee became the first player in baseball history to achieve the “titanium sombrero” (six strikeouts in one game).

The affable Red Sox manager Joe Morgan later said, “I wanted 40 innings so nobody could ever tie our beautiful record."

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