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It’s great to be back after a few days off, which I spent doing back-breaking yard work in the searing Bellevue heat. OK, I didn’t really work that hard, and it wasn’t exactly like being in Kansas City in late July. But it really is good to be back.
I spent last night monitoring the end of the remarkable Rainiers game, which they won in 18 innings over Sacramento 2-1, on Scott Savastano’s walk-off homer after five hours and 32 minutes of crazy baseball. But that tells only a fraction of the story. Savastano — a utility infielder for the Rainiers — had actually pitched the top of the 18th inning, retiring Sacramento 1-2-3. So his home run made himself the winning pitcher. You don’t see that every day — a position player getting the win on his own walk-off jack.
You can (hopefully) watch the video of his home run, above, and then listen to the call of Mike Curto, who deserves a medal for calling all 18 innings without a color man. Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News-Tribune deserves something — maybe a Taco Bell taco — for covering the game, though his paper had already gone to press when it ended. Divish, of course, was characteristically stoic and uncomplaining as the innings mounted. Here’s his blog post on the game, the story line of which, at one point, long, long ago, appeared to be about the fact that Danny Hultzen turned in the best effort, by far, of his Tacoma career (six innings, three hits, one run, two walks and eight strikeouts) — very encouraging progress. Here’s the Mariners’ minor-league report, which has a box score and some highlights of that Tacoma game, and all the other Mariners’ games last night. Divish was on Twitter fire last night, reaching new heights of snark as the game progressed — until he reached his limit of 1,000 tweets in a 24-hour period, and was cut off from making further tweets. I kid you not. Who knew there was a limit? (Turns out that maybe he just reached an hourly limit. I’m not sure. The point is, he over-tweeted and was busted for it). So for awhile, Divish was direct messaging game updates to me (which he was still allowed to do), and I was posting them. Like I said, it was a crazy night.
So crazy that I knew I had to get Curto’s take on things. Curto, as we all know, does a great job calling the Rainiers, but he’s really being tested this week. Last night was his fourth extra-inning game in six days. The previous night’s game had gone 13 innings and lasted four hours and 43 minutes. And remember, he has no help — he’s calling every single pitch all by himself. (That won’t be the case next week, when Mike will join the Mariners’ broadcast crew to work the games Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle against the Yankees — a well-deserved bit of major-league exposure for him for the second year in a row).
“I was getting a sore throat end of game,” he said with a laugh. “I was definitely losing my voice. I really want to play nine innings tonight. All those extra-inning games take a toll.”
Curto said he went through “an emotional roller-coaster” as the game rolled on, the Mariners getting runners on base in the 11th and 12th, and moving them up to scoring position, but failing to get them across.
“Then a kind of giddiness hits you,” he said. “For me, it was around the 13th inning.
You go from, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we’re going to do this again,’ to, ‘This is starting to turn into a crazy game.” Then it started to be kind of fun.”
The longest game Curto had seen since he started calling the Rainiers in 1999 was 18 innings. “Around the 16th, I started to think we had a real chance to match that or even pass it. Another thing that popped into my mind: the 12:50 curfew. The PCL has a rule that no inning can start after that. That was appearing on the horizon. It ended at 12:40. If we had gone any further we would have hit that curfew.”
The Savastano ending is what propeled this game into near-epic status.
“He’s a utility infielder who really hasn’t played much at all in the last month, since a couple of things happened,” Curto explained. “He went into May and early June playing every day. Then some guys got healthy, Nick Franklin came up, and it completely crushed his playing time. Now he’s getting in once or twice a week for a couple of at-bats.”
Savastano entered the game at first base in the 13th inning, and when the Rainiers finally ran out of pitching, manager Daren Brown put him on the mound. Savastano had actually pitched three times last year for Jackson, so he had a little bit of experience, and he got through the inning “with help from an unbelievable catch by Darren Ford in center field,” Curto said. “That would have been a double at least.
Sacramento also put in a position player to pitch, Shane Peterson.
“I’ve since found out he pitched in college at Long Beach State,” Curto said. “He was throwing 91, a left-hander. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a (position player to pitching) conversion story down the road. Savastano goes deep and wins his own game. I haven’t seen that. Obviously, pitchers never hit in the PCL. That’s technically a pitcher hitting a game-winning home run.”
It was way too late to do much of anything but head home after the game ended, so Curto hasn’t had a chance to talk to Savastano yet.
“He’ll be on the pre-game show,” he said.