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The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, two teams from the Triple-A International League, played the longest game in professional baseball history. It lasted for 33 innings, with eleven hours and 25 minutes of playing time. 32 innings were played April 18/19, 1981 at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and the final 33rd inning was played June 23, 1981. Pawtucket won the game, 3–2.
The game began on Saturday, April 18, 1981 at 8:25 p.m., after a delay of about 30 minutes due to problems with stadium lights, with 1,740 in attendance. It continued through the night and into Easter morning. Although most leagues have a curfew rule that would have suspended the game—the International League's activates at 12:50 a.m.—the rule book that the home plate umpire Dennis Cregg had did not contain one. After Pawtucket's Russ Laribee's sacrifice fly drove in Chico Walker in the bottom of the ninth inning and tied the game at one run each, the teams continued playing.
Several times, one side neared victory before circumstances changed. When Wade Boggs drove in the tying run in the bottom of the 21st inning after a Rochester run, even the Pawtucket players groaned. He recalled that, "I didn't know if the guys on the team wanted to hug me or slug me." The weather was so cold that players burned broken bats and the stadium's wooden benches to warm themselves, and the clubhouses ran out of food. The wind blew into the infield, making hits difficult; Pawtucket's Dave Koza later claimed that otherwise his team would have won in nine innings, with "four or five shots that would have been out of the park". For example, Sam Bowen hit a fly ball to center that reportedly left the field before the wind blew it back to Rochester outfielder Dallas Williams. Williams went 0–for–13 in 15 plate appearances, one of many records achieved during the game.
After Pawtucket's Luis Aponte pitched the seventh to tenth innings in relief, manager Joe Morgan—who himself would be ejected in the 22nd inning by Cregg—let him leave before the game ended. Aponte's wife did not believe his explanation for coming home at 3 a.m. Sunday. He promised that the Sunday newspaper would prove his story, but since the game's postponement occurred too late to appear in it, Aponte had to wait until the Monday edition. Cregg had brought his nephew David to the game; David's father became concerned for his family and called the police, who told him that the game had not ended.
By 4 a.m. the players were "delirious" from exhaustion; Rochester's Dave Huppert had caught the first 31 innings before being replaced, and Jim Umbarger pitched 10 scoreless innings from the 23rd inning, striking out nine and giving up four hits. The president of the league, Harold Cooper, was finally reached on the phone sometime after 3 a.m.; the horrified Cooper ordered that play stop at the end of the current inning. Finally at 4:07 a.m., at the end of the 32nd inning and more than eight hours after it began, the game was stopped. There were 19 fans left in the seats—not including David Cregg, who had fallen asleep—all of whom received season or lifetime passes to McCoy Stadium. As the players went home to rest before returning at 11 a.m. for an afternoon game that Sunday, they saw people going to Easter sunrise service. When Boggs' father complimented him for getting four hits in the game, the player admitted that he had had 12 at bats.
Both teams signed a baseball on Sunday for display at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooper had suggested that the game resume that day, but Rochester manager Doc Edwards requested a delay because of the risk of injury. Instead, it resumed on the evening of Tuesday, June 23, the next time the Red Wings were in town. A sellout crowd of 5,746 and 140 reporters from around the world were present, partly because the major leagues were on strike at the time; the players voted against an offer to resume the game at Fenway Park to avoid crossing the picket line. On that evening, it took just one inning and 18 minutes to finish the game, with Koza driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 33rd. The losing pitcher was Steve Grilli, who had joined Rochester in the interim since the game's suspension.
The Pawtucket Red Sox celebrated the 25th anniversary of the game on June 23, 2006. Many members of both teams attended a luncheon and round table discussion in Providence, Rhode Island, and a ceremony was held before the game against the Columbus Clippers that night. Dennis Cregg thinks that David Cregg has never attended another baseball game.
|Rochester Red Wings||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||18||3|
|Pawtucket Red Sox||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||21||1|
No outs when winning run scored.
Grilli pitched to 3 batters in the 33rd
|Parks pitched to 3 batters in the 7th|
WP - Smithson, Hurst.
Two future Hall of Famers were part of the historic game. Cal Ripken, Jr., who was inducted in 2007, went 2–for–13 on the night playing third base for Rochester. Ripken was the American League's Rookie of the Year the following year. Wade Boggs, who was inducted in 2005, played third base for Pawtucket and went 4–for–12 with a double and an RBI. The Baseball Hall of Fame possesses other artifacts of the game, including the official scorecard.
Twenty-three other future major leaguers played in the game.