1. 5 August 2001: Never Leave a Game Early
This game wasn't an epic extra-extra-extra innings game, but it did go 11 innings (so it qualifies), and it shows why you should never leave a baseball game early. On August 5, 2001, a friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to go to the Indians game that night against the Mariners. He caught me in the middle of packing a suitcase, since I was scheduled to fly from Cleveland to Atlanta the next morning to visit my then-girlfriend for her birthday the next day. I briefly thought about refusing, since I didn't want to be tired the next day when I got to Atlanta, but reason won out and I went. By the fifth inning, the Mariners were up 14-2 and then-Indians manager Charlie Manuel had emptied the bench. Jolbert Cabrera was playing. In general, I have always tried to live my life by the rule "Never leave a baseball game early," but if there was one time to break it, it was now. Unlike everyone else who left that game, I'm willing to admit it.
The Indians scored three in the seventh (which we heard about as we got on the train to go back to the car), four in the eighth (which we heard on the radio on the way back to my parents' house), and five in the ninth, capped off by an improbable bases-clearing triple by Omar Vizquel. Of course, by this point, I was watching the game on ESPN. The game went to extra frames, and in the 11th inning, Jolbert Cabrera himself won the game with an RBI single. Now, of course, the game ended at about 1:00 a.m. and I had trouble getting to sleep from the tingling sensation that went with such a game, which meant that I didn't get much sleep and was tired when I got to Atlanta the next day… and I missed my chance for an "I was there at that game" moment.
Fortunately for me, the story ends with the fact that Thursday marks the nine-year anniversary of the day I asked that girlfriend to marry me. I hope she knows what I gave up for her. —Russell A. Carleton
2. 1 July 2004: The Jeter Dive
If Derek Jeter hadn't made that dive into the stands, then it would have been the Nomar game. The Yankees' 5-4 win over Boston on July 1, 2004, as the narrative goes, was the day that sealed the AL East's other glamour shortstop's departure from Boston. It went 13 innings and four hours and 20 minutes, yet Garciaparra never left the bench. He was the only Red Sox position player who didn't play, and the cameras found him over and over sitting on the bench. He was traded four weeks later.
If Garciaparra hadn't sulked his way out of Boston (allegedly), it would have been the day Gary Sheffield had to play third base. This one didn't go as well as the Vernon Wells experience at third base this year. Sheffield, forced back there when the Yankees lost Jeter, made a throwing error on his first chance at third since 1995. We were also one bench player away from the Yankees having to hit their pitcher in an American League game.
If it weren't for the defensive weirdness, it would have been the game when Brad Halsey beat Pedro Martinez and Ruben Sierra, Miguel Cairo, and John Flaherty beat Manny Ramirez. Pedro and Manny were terrific, but a pitching matchup that looked extremely one-sided in the paper that morning turned out to be a fine matchup, and after Ramirez hit his second home run of the night in the top of the 13th, the three players who didn't even start the game had the three hits for the Yankees in their winning rally.
If the Yankees hadn't won it late, it would have been the fake triple play game. Both teams escaped bases-loaded quagmires in extra innings with the Yankees getting out of a bases-loaded no-out situation. It took a little longer than Michael Kay, John Sterling, and most of the crowd thought, as the Yankees appeared to execute a 5-2-5 triple play to end the 11th, but the last runner tagged out at third had already been forced out at third on the initial ground ball, so it was just two.
If there weren't so much extra-inning drama, it would have been the game where Pedro and Sheffield nearly incited another Yankees-Red Sox riot. Martinez got a little steamed when Sheffield stepped out of the box on him in the first inning. He then drilled him with a pitch prompting a staredown, some words, and nearly a rerun of this incident from just nine months earlier.
But Jeter did make that dive into the stands, so I guess we've thought of it as the Jeter game. But while the Aaron Boone game, the Bucky Dent game, and Game 4 in 2004 ALCS had higher stakes, this was a better game start to end than all of them, and maybe the best in the history of baseball's most celebrated rivalry. —Zachary Levine
3. Aaron Boone's Sends the Yankees to the World Series
I may have been the only Yankees fan in America who didn’t see Aaron Boone take the Bombers to the World Series in 2003. I missed that home run because I had intentionally stopped watching the game. That’s how stressful that game was to me. That game—the culmination to that point of a grueling seven-game series, a season in which the Yankee and Red Sox played 26 times, and decades of divisional competition—was the epitome of baseball rivalry.
In Game Three, Pedro hit right fielder Karim Garcia in the back of the neck with a pitch, which got the Yankee bench barking at the Dominican right-hander. (Pedro maintained years later that the pitch to Garcia was an accident.) Umpires warned both benches. In the next half-inning, Manny Ramirez went ballistic after a Roger Clemens pitch went high and inside (but nowhere really near Ramirez’s head). An infamous brawl ensued, with elderly Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer charging Martinez and Pedro shoving the old man to the ground. Later in the game a Fenway groundskeeper got into a fight with Jeff Nelson in the visitors’ bullpen.
Yeah, it was a tense atmosphere.
So enter Game Seven. It was Pedro and the Rocket again, this time in New York. Clemens had nothing, leaving with a deficit and with runners on base in the fourth inning. Mike Mussina made his first career relief appearance, pitching three scoreless innings to somehow keep the Yankees within reach. Still, the Red Sox had the momentum.
It was the eighth inning, and the Sox were up 5–2. They had a win probability of 94 percent. I moaned in disbelief to my dad, “They’re really going to do it. The Red Sox are actually going to win this time.” But he cautioned me: “Dan, they’re the Red Sox.” Nothing else needed to be said. He knew the drill.
Then all of a sudden, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Hideki Matsui had base hits. It was 5–3. Sox skipper Grady Little was going to take out Pedro, right? Everybody knew Pedro was vulnerable after 100 pitches, and he’d thrown 117 to that point. But no—Pedro stayed in to face Jorge Posada, whose bloop double tied the game. Yankee Stadium shook with cheers so loud that Mariano Rivera went into the bullpen bathroom and cried. Posada’s reaction:
Every Yankee fan watching had faith Mariano would give the Yankees a chance to win in extra innings… but for how long? With two outs in the 10th, David Ortiz hit a double to left that almost made its way out for a home run. The normally stoic Rivera bit his right hand out of anxiety:
After Rivera got out of it in the 10th, I couldn’t take it anymore. I resigned myself to the outcome, whatever it was. I just needed Armageddon to be over. So no, I don’t remember Boone’s walk-off home run. But I remember that game feeling like the last epic battle of a World War. It was extraordinary.
And thanks to Major League Baseball, you can watch the entire drama unfold on YouTube. —Dan Rozenson
4. 12 July 1997: The Extra-Inning No-No
I have had the opportunity to see a lot of extra-inning games, but the one that stands out went just one inning past regulation. It happened July 12, 1997, at old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh when the Astros and Pirates were scoreless after nine innings. Quite a 10th inning followed. Francisco Cordova had no-hit the Astros through nine but manager Gene Lamont pulled him after 121 pitches and 10 strikeouts. Diminutive left-hander Ricardo Rincon worked around a walk to set the Astros down in the 10th to preserve the shutout and no-hitter. Meanwhile, the Astros’ Chris Holt and Billy Wagner had shut out the Pirates on five hits through nine innings when manager Larry Dierker called on John Hudek to start the 10th. Jason Kendall and Turner Ward walked to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Pinch-hitter Mark Smith then blasted a three-run home run deep into the left-field seats to send a sellout crowd of 44,119—quite a rarity in Pittsburgh in those days—into delirium. In one fell swoop, there was a no-hitter, a walk-off home run, and a tie for first place in the National League Central between the Pirates and Astros. All in all, it was a pretty neat moment. —John Perrotto
5. The Tied All-Star Game
"They got everything you could ask for in an All-Star Game except a winner." That's how Bob Brenly described the 2002 All-Star Game that ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings, at which point both teams' pitching staffs had been tapped dry, baseball fans filled the streets and began rioting, and the government declared football law.
I never like seeing people disappointed, but admittedly there's a sick thrill to seeing people sad only if distraught over trivial matters such as a tie baseball game. This was one of the first times times as a sports consumer where I could not understand the mass outrage. My thoughts were along the lines of "It was an exhibition!" and "Robert Fick scored the tying run so how important could it be?"
Ties happen all the time in baseball, including spring training and high school. They even happen in the MLB regular season, as recently as 2005, when the Reds and Astros played to a seven-inning, rain-shortened 2-2 draw, which was later made up to determine a winner.) Not that I'm advocating ties. What makes extra innings so darn wonderful is the hope for perpetual baseball; that it will never end, even when bullpens become pyres and kids are begging their parents to stay at the ballpark, even on a school night. The game must go on. The chance of a tie kills this hope.
This was an annual event whose outcome slowly became irrelevant to us over time, including to MLB, at least until then. They felt obligated to placate the immediate outrage and make the game matter. That is why the outcome of the game now determines World Series home-field advantage, long after all the best players have been removed from the contest. So if this year's game goes 20 innings and both teams are out of pitchers again, then what? —Matt Sussman
6. Let's Go 2 3/4!
I would say that I’ll never see another game like this one, but when it comes to college ball, you never truly know. When I covered University of Texas baseball in 2009, I saw Texas outlast Boston College, 3-2, in a 25-inning marathon during an NCAA Regional game.
The contest was full of absurdities beyond even the NCAA-record 25 innings. The game took seven hours and three minutes to complete; after writing the game story, I didn’t get home until about 4:30 a.m. Both teams went scoreless from the top of the seventh through the bottom of the 24th––that’s 36 consecutive blank half-innings. The clubs also teamed up to retire 29 hitters in a row at one point.
Texas lefty closer––yes, closer––Austin Wood put on the performance of a lifetime, beginning his outing with 12 1/3 no-hit innings. That’s not a typo. Wood ended up yielding two hits in 13 shutout innings, walking four, striking out 14, and throwing the infamous 169 pitches. Not to be outdone, Boston College closer Mike Belfiore, currently with the Orioles, kept Texas off the board for 9.2 frames. He gave up three hits and struck out 11 without walking a batter. Yes, the closer usage was irresponsible on the part of both coaches, but those are two incredible individual performances––in addition to the 25-inning game––that I’ll never forget. —Jason Cole
7. The Grand Slam Single
It had been 11 years since the last time the Mets made the playoffs, and their opponent in the 1999 National League Championship Series was the hated Atlanta Braves. The series couldn't have started off worse, as the Mets dropped the first three games of the series—all by two runs or less. No one thought the Mets could come back from this deficit, and the series looked like it would end in Game Four until John Olerud knocked a two-run single off of John Rocker in the eighth inning to give the Mets a one-run lead. Even after winning Game Four, the Mets were not going to win this series, but the scene was set to send the series back to Atlanta behind Masato Yoshii.
The game took over from there. In Game Five, John Olerud hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and the Braves tied it in the fourth on a two-run single from Brian Jordan. And that's how the game stayed for hours—in fact, by the time it ended it would become the longest playoff game ever played, at five hours and 46 minutes. In the top of the 13th inning, Chipper Jones doubled with two outs and Keith Lockhart tried to score from first unsuccessfully—making the third out at the plate. In the top of the 15th inning, he would make up for it, hitting the go-ahead triple off of Octavio Dotel (in his third inning of work) to make the score 3-2.
What happened in the bottom of the 15th is what everyone remembers. The Mets loaded the bases on a single, a sacrifice bunt, and two walks before Todd Pratt stepped to the plate. This was the same Todd Pratt who hit the series-winning home run against Arizona in the NLDS. He worked a walk of Kevin McGlitchy to tie the game, bringing Robin Ventura (who had struggled all series) to the plate. The rest, as they say, is history. Ventura hit a grand slam to win the game and was tackled by Todd Pratt and others before he could get to second base, leaving the umpire to rule that Ventura actually hit a single, and the game was won 4-3 by the Mets. It was a thrilling conclusion to a thrilling game, and even though the Mets went on to lose another extra-innings game two nights later, Ventura's "grand slam single" is still both one of the organization's defining moments and one of my favorite baseball memories of all time. —Bret Sayre
8. 14 August 1990: A Giant Relief for the Phillies
For some reason I was in a hospital, can't remember why, but for whatever reason, I was in a hospital. I was 10, it was summer, and I don't remember much, but I remember exactly what my little Walkman radio looked like and how the headphones didn't fit quite right so the sound was always dropping out for a split second. The Giants were playing the Phillies, and when the game ended I was going to be so unbearably bored in that hospital. So I needed the game to go on forever. When the Phillies put runners on second and third with one out in a tied-up ninth inning, the situation was dire, but the Giants escaped. When the Phillies loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th, the situation was dire, but there were two outs and the Giants escaped. But in the 11th, when the Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out, it seemed not just dire but decided. A home team with the bases loaded and nobody out in extra innings has roughly a 94 percent likelihood of winning; it's like having a two- or three-run lead in the top half of an extra inning. There was no way they'd escape this one, and the gravity of whatever situation my parents were dealing with inside the hospital was starting to sink in.
And yet, somehow, the Phillies couldn't score. Frank Oliveras got a couple of strikeouts looking, and then a fly out, and the game went into the 12th. The Giants would lose in the 13th, but the game would go another 45 minutes or so, and by the time it was over—a four-and-a-half-hour game—it was late enough that we were on our way home. For the life of me, I can't remember why we were at the hospital. I want to say it was something having to do with my sister. Maybe a concussion? Something serious, I think I remember, but gosh. I can't remember that, but I can remember as clear as anything how those two strikeouts and the fly out felt like somebody had walked in, saw me in critical condition, and saved my life. —Sam Miller
This is the exact prompt to elicit an homage to Rick Camp, who passed away a little less than two months ago at the tender age of 59. Camp is one of the few pitchers in history whose Baseball Reference page you visit in order to look up his hitting stats—more specifically, his home run log. He hit exactly one major-league home run in 197 plate appearances, and despite a pretty good career on the mound—including two excellent relief seasons in 1981-82, and seven straight years with a >100 ERA+—it’s that single home run for which he’ll be forever remembered, if he’s remembered at all. (Well, remembered for his deeds on the field: Camp went to jail in 2005 for his involvement in a plot to embezzle money from a mental health agency.)
On July 4, 1985, Camp’s Braves locked up the New York Mets in an extra-innings duel that started late due to rain, was delayed again by rain, and continued far into the next morning. Dwight Gooden, 20 years old, started the game for the Mets. He was on his way to the greatest season of his career—he won the Cy Young Award, and his 229 ERA+ was the 12th-best season a pitcher has ever had, by Baseball Reference’s math—but this was his shortest outing of the year. He was lifted in the third inning.
Fifteen innings later, Camp was the pitcher of record for the Braves. The pitcher of record for the Mets was Tom Gorman, who was in his sixth inning of relief work. Gorman had already blown a save opportunity in the 13th inning when he allowed a two-out, two-strike home run to Atlanta’s Tommy Harper. He was staked to a new lead, 11-10, in the top of the 18th inning, when Camp’s throwing error moved the go-ahead run to third base—a sacrifice fly out the Mets ahead.
There were two outs and no one on in the bottom of the 18th when Camp came up to hit for himself because the Braves were out of pinch-hitters. Camp was batting .060. He smirked when he came to bat. He put a good swing on the first pitch and fouled it back, garnering John Sterling’s respectful approval. He took the second pitch for strike two. And then he hit the third pitch over the left-center field wall for a game-tying home run. Danny Heep fell in a heap in left field. Chief Noc-A-Homa (or however the hell it was spelled) greeted Camp at home plate. I once saw the Atlanta broadcast of this game in what I guess was an ESPN Classic replay (via TBS), and I recall the Braves’ announcer simply saying, “Now I’ve seen everything.”
The ending is by no means a perfect one. Camp stayed in the game and, perhaps tuckered out from his trip around the bases, coughed up five runs in the top of the 19th. It was by now nearly 4:00 a.m. The Mets’ Ron Darling, who had pitched eight innings just two days earlier, came on to nail down the win. An error (by none other than Keith Hernandez) and two walks, plus a single by (of course) Tommy Hunter, brought up the tying run, improbably, in the bottom of the 19th inning, in the form of… Rick Camp. But this time Camp struck out to end the game.
It was 4:01 a.m. on what was now July 5, 1985. There were still quite a few Braves fans in attendance because it was—or had been—Independence Day Fireworks Night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Naturally, the Braves obliged the remaining Tomahawk choppers with a pyrotechnical display, which awoke local residents and convinced many that they were under attack.
The Braves released Camp, a Georgia boy by birth an upbringing, after spring training of 1986. He never pitched again. —Adam Sobsey