Last night’s game was the longest I’ve ever covered in my career from an innings standpoint. But it’s funny because when recapping what I thought had been my previous longest in last night’s blog post (this morning’s actually) I mentioned a Baltimore game from 1998 while covering Toronto. In reality, I’d covered longer.
That game in Baltimore was a 15-inning affair on the very first road trip I covered as a baseball writer, which made it meaningful because I was still learning the ropes of deadline writing and what not to say, as recapped by a former colleague, Mike Zeisberger, last year during a story about Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott. Zeis and I spent an entire year together on that beat — we still flew on the team plane back then — and he never let me live that one down.
Bottom line: it’s never a good idea to comment about how quickly a baseball game is going.
For obvious reasons, I remember that Baltimore game. Funny thing is, Norm Charlton wound up being the winning pitcher for the Orioles that night. This was long before I got to cover him as a Mariners bullpen coach in 2008. They have a curfew in Baltimore that says no inning can start after 1 a.m. and they were going to call the game and continue it later that day had Rafael Palmeiro not hit a three-run walkoff homer that inning.
But I’d completely forgotten about the longest game I’d ever covered before arriving back home just before 3 a.m. today.
I even had to look it up. Indeed, there it was in April 2001, when the Yankees beat the Blue Jays in 17 innings in a game that took five hours, 57 minutes to play.
The Baltimore game was two innings shorter and took eight fewer minutes to play.
But somehow, the only thing I remember about the Yankees-Jays game in 2001 was being really, really bored in the pressbox. We had no internet blogs or storytelling back then, so it was already too late to get the game in the paper. Which left us little to do but sit back, watch and wonder how long it would take for somebody to score.
Last night was a bit different, knowing we could get a full story and blog post online. It makes you focus on the game and keep track of every play. We had an editor sitting in the Times offices last night waiting it all out until the bitter end, so I couldn’t take all day to write and post things.
So, anyway, this was my longest innings game ever at 18 and third-longest timed regular season game covered at five hours, 44 minutes.
Photo Credit: AP
Then, there are the playoffs to consider. My lasting memory, again because it was one of my first, of the longest playoff game by innings that I covered was a 1999 NLCS Game 5 in New York between the Braves and Mets.
This was the “John Rocker” series, where the Braves closer would ride the subway to the ballpark and later spill some of his thoughts about it to Sports Illustrated and forever tar his image. Bobby Valentine was managing the Mets and that was a circus in its own right. But I’ll never forget being down on the field shortly before gametime and the hostility in the air at Shea Stadium that series — fans hating Rocker for his antics and comments about them — and the batteries that were being thrown at Rocker.
New York trailed 3-1 in the series but would win this game in 15 innings — the longest I’ve ever covered by innings in the post-season. It came down to a Robin Ventura walkoff “single” that was actually a home run but changed to a single because he didn’t completely circle the bases.
The official game time was five hours, 46 minutes. But what that doesn’t tell you is that the game started about three hours late because of a steady rain, which continued throughout the contest. In all, it felt like covering a nine-hour affair. It was a thriller, but it ended right up against our newspaper deadlines, which made for a real hairy aftermath — especially when nobody knew whether Ventura had hit a home run or a single.
Then, there was the longest World Series game in history, which I also covered in Houston back in 2005. This was pretty much the clincher, as the White Sox beat the Astros 2-0 in Game 3 on a Geoff Blum homer in the 14th and would go on to sweep in four straight. Game time on this one was five hours, 42 minutes — two minutes quicker than last night’s game.
The amazing thing to me was that the game was played as quicky as it was — given all the TV timeouts and stuff synonymous with the post-season — but I know why that is. Both teams were completely incompetent when it came to offense. We had great temporary press seats in the stands behind home plate and could sympathize with the legions of Astros fans who wanted to pull their hair out at times.
Houston kept filling up the bases and just could not get anybody across. I remember getting angry at one point — as were some of my colleagues — at the inept Astros because we had wanted to see a better series. Let’s face it, we also all wanted to go back to Chicago for a couple of nights and see the White Sox end their curse of no titles in front of their home fans.
No offense to Houston, but in a choice between staying in that city’s downtown versus Chicago, it’s no contest.
Anyhow, that’s my memory of that game. Non-stop frustration.
But the longest playoff game I ever covered by time also happened to be one of the most thrilling i’ve ever witnessed. I’d have to rate it second on the thrill-meter to Game 7 on the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Arizona.
But Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox had it all.
It went 14 innings and took five hours, 49 minutes to play. It was also delayed by rain at the start, so this was another contest that went on forever.
But you hardly noticed the time and that’s what made it great.
There was a sense in the air that the Red Sox could indeed come back from 3-0 down in that series if they somehow got past Game 5. The Yankees’ pitching was not lining up very well in Games 6 and 7 and despite Curt Schilling needing a bloody sock in the first of those contests, the paper measurements clearly favored Boston if they could extend the series.
And they did — barely.
Boston was trailing 4-2 in the eighth, but tied it on a David Ortiz homer and then a sacrifice fly that scored Dave Roberts from third. Ortiz would later win it in the 14th with a two-out single to center field that set off an eruption at Fenway Park unlike many you’ve ever seen.
Game 4 was actually just as thrilling and potentially more memorable because of a Roberts steal in the ninth and ensuing single to tie the game off Mariano Rivera. Ortiz later won that one with a homer in extras.
But as good as Game 4 was, it only made it 3-1 in the series. Knowing what we do now, it was obviously a key game in every respect. But back then, Game 5 was the big one because it made it 3-2 and — like I said — everyone had a sense that things were not going New York’s way either on paper or in reality. Game 6 was somewhat close but Game 7 was a blowout.
That entire series energized me like no other I’ve ever covered — with the exception of the 2001 World Series. In retrospect though, for purely baseball reasons — unlike all the post 9/11 drama in 2001 which was very real and emotional to experiece — that 2004 series and the fifth game remains etched in memory.
I remember getting back to my hotel room in nearly Cambridge, Mass. that night at 2 a.m. — having not eaten anything since noon. I ordered fast food and it didn’t get there until 3:30 a.m. I wound up rebooking my train to New York for 10 a.m. later that morning and arrived there pretty exhausted but excited for what was to come in Game 6 the following night.
Let me tell you, if you have to sit through a ballgame for six hours while covering it for a newspaper on-deadline, that Game 5 was the contest you wanted to be at.
Longest games covered by innings:
2012 Mariners-Orioles — 18
2001 Blue Jays-Yankees — 17
1998 Blue Jays-Orioles — 15
1999 Braves-Mets (NLCS Game 5) — 15
Longest games covered by time:
2001 Blue Jays-Yankees: 5:57
2004 Red Sox-Yankees (ALCS Game 5): 5:49
1998 Blue Jays-Orioles: 5:49
1999 Braves-Mets (NLCS Game 5): 5:46
2012 Mariners-Orioles: 5:44
2005 White Sox-Astros (World Series Game 3): 5:42