The Longest Game

Brewers vs Sox gameOne of my favorite things about baseball is that you never know what could happen on a given night. You could see a perfect game, a 15-14 slugfest, an inside-the-park home run, or other feats too numerous to list here. You could even see an extra-inning marathon that would go into the record book for all time. On Tuesday, May 8, 1984, that is exactly what the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox provided for fans.

Like so many epic baseball happenings, this one started out as just another early-season game.

The White Sox, defending champions of the American League West division, were trying to regain the form they showed the previous season. The Brewers, like the rest of the American League East, were staring up at the scorching Detroit Tigers. Chicago sent 23-year-old lefty Bob Fallon to the mound, while the Brewers countered with grizzled 39-year-old righty Don Sutton.

The two very different starters put up matching zeroes on the scoreboard until the bottom of the sixth inning. White Sox first baseman Greg Walker hit a one-out single, stole second, then Sutton walked Harold Baines. Tom Paciorek, who had replaced Ron Kittle (1983’s Rookie of the Year) in the 4th inning, lined a single to left to score Walker.

In the top of the 7th, Fallon walked Randy Ready and manager Tony LaRussa went to the bullpen for right-hander Salome Barojas to face right-handed hitting catcher Jim Sundberg. The percentage move backfired, as Sundberg and Robin Yount both singled to tie the game 1-1. As would prove to be his career-long tendency, LaRussa immediately went back to the pen and summoned lefty Britt Burns, who escaped the 7th with no further damage done.

The game remained tied until the 9th, when Yount again factored in the scoring. He doubled to left, then stole third and scored thanks to an errant throw from Burns. Ted Simmons immediately singled and advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch. Ben Ogilvie’s single scored Simmons and the Brewers led 3-1. With Rollie Fingers (another future Hall of Famer) coming in, the game should have been over.

Instead, catcher/right fielder (never see that combination anymore, do you?) Charlie Moore botched a Paciorek fly ball that resulted in a two-base error. Fingers retired the next two batters. Then shortstop Julio Cruz, who sports a lifetime slugging percentage of .299, doubled to left to score Paciorek. Rudy Law (who stole 77 bases in 1983) followed with a single. Cruz beat Ogilvie’s throw home to tie the score 3-3. It was time for free baseball.

Little did the fans know how at the time just much free baseball they would get.

The game rolled on and on, remaining tied at 3 through 17 innings. In those eight innings, only the White Sox mounted a serious threat to score, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th. Finally, at 1:05 am, the umpires had to suspend the game due to the AL’s curfew rule. The teams had played for six hours, used 10 pitchers and – in Chicago’s case – used nearly every player on the bench (which would become a factor). Yet nothing was decided.

When the game resumed the next day, the White Sox immediately threatened in the bottom of the 18th. Brewers pitcher Chuck Porter wiggled out of the jam by striking out Carlton Fisk with the bases loaded, however, and the game continued.

In the top of the 21st inning, 41-year-old right-hander Ron Reed relieved Juan Agosto. All Agosto did in this game is toss seven shutout innings. After retiring backup catcher Bill Schroder and Yount, Reed surrendered a single to Cecil Cooper and a walk to Simmons before Ogilvie smacked a three-run home run to put Milwaukee in front 6-3. At that stage of the game, Baseball Reference listed the Brewers’ win percentage at 96%.

The remaining 4% is what happened next.

It started with an error by third baseman Ready, against the red-hot Rudy Law. Next, Fisk redeemed himself for his bases-loaded strikeout three innings earlier by singling in Law. Marc Hill followed that with another single. After whiffing Dave Stegman, Baines walked to load the bases. Porter remained on the hill for Milwaukee. Having used five pitchers the previous night and with that night’s regularly-scheduled game still to go, it appeared Brewers manager Rene Lachemann was sticking with Porter, regardless of the outcome. Paciorek stroked a single to center, scoring Fisk and pinch-runner Richard Dotson to knot the game once again, 6-6.

As the 22nd inning began, some unusual changes took place on the field for the White Sox. Thanks to LaRussa’s decision to have Dotson, a starting pitcher, pinch run for first baseman Marc Hill, Paciorek had move from left field to first (their fourth first baseman of the game). Then Stegman, the designated hitter, had to go in and play left. Under the AL rules, when a player serving as the DH goes in to play the field, that team loses the ability to have a DH and the pitcher has to bat. Note: This was 13 years before interleague play started, so American League pitchers never batted during a game.

The Brewers, on the other hand, made minimal changes compared to the White Sox. Rick Manning replaced center fielder Bobby Clark in the 12th, Schroeder replaced Sundberg at catcher in the 13th, and Dion James and Mark Brouhard played right after Charlie Moore after his 9th-inning gaffe opened the door for the White Sox to tie game the first time. That’s it for personnel moves for the Brewers. Their DH, Cecil Cooper, racked up a game-high 11 at-bats.

In the 22nd, Ron Reed kept the Brewers off the scoreboard, then had to bat 3rd in the bottom of the inning. At least it wasn’t a foreign concept to him – he had spent his entire career prior to 1984 in the National League. He grounded meekly to the pitcher to end the inning.

In the 23rd, the White Sox threatened Reed again, as Cooper singled and Simmons walked. LaRussa pulled Reed for Floyd Bannister, another starter. He retired Ogilvie to end the threat. During the bottom half of the inning, the White Sox had two on and nobody out against Porter, but ran themselves out of the inning with some spotty baserunning. The score remained 6-6.

The 24th was uneventful, other than Bannister’s first major-league at-bat since 1978, when he was with the Houston Astros. He grounded out to short.

The 25th inning saw 39-year-old Tom Seaver, in his initial season in the AL, take the mound for Chicago. Seaver was three seasons removed from a 14-2 season for Cincinnati and a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting. He also was the scheduled starter for that night’s regularly-scheduled game. What would LaRussa have done for a starter in that game if the current one had gone another 5-10 innings? As it was, the only White Sox player or pitcher who didn’t appear in the game was starter Lamarr Hoyt, who had pitched the game before this epic. LaRussa had to be wondering the same thing. In any event, Seaver worked around a leadoff single by getting Yount to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play.

As that half of the inning ended, it marked a first in baseball history: the first game that lasted eight hours. Fortunately, for both teams, it wouldn’t be much longer. Mercifully, in the bottom of the 25th, Harold Baines launched a one-out solo home run off Porter to end the game and give Chicago a 7-6 victory. Seaver was credited with the win. Porter, who did yeoman’s work by pitching 7 1/3 innings in preserving the Brewers’ bullpen, took the loss.

After the game, LaRussa was quoted as saying, “Hallelujah! Nice game. I don’t know.” I think he can be forgiven for being speechless at such a game.

Epilogue

Baines’ home run answered the question of who would start the scheduled May 9 game. Seaver not only started, but pitched 8 1/3 innings and – in a first in Tom Terrific’s career – won his 2nd game of the day.

The day the game started, Tigers first baseman (and former Brewer) Prince Fielder was born.

Rene Lachemann only lasted one season as Brewers manager and would not manage again until the expansion Florida Marlins debuted in 1993.

Tony LaRussa was fired by the White Sox in the middle of the 1986 season. In an unusual move, the Oakland Athletics scooped him up a few weeks later and he led them to a 45-34 finish that season. He would go on to manage the A’s through 1995, reaching three consecutive World Series between 1988-90 (winning it all in 1989). His greatest success came with the St. Louis Cardinals; there, LaRussa would win the 2006 and 2011 World Series and reach the postseason nine times in his 16 seasons as manager. LaRussa and Sparky Anderson are the only managers to win a World Series title in each league.

Ironically, Anderson would achieve this feat in 1984 by leading the Detroit Tigers to the 1984 World Championship, swamping the San Diego Padres in five games.

Rollie Fingers, who played for the Padres before joining the Brewers, would save 23 games for the Brewers in 1984. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992 after finishing 709 games in his career, being credited for 341 saves. In his debut season with the Brewers in 1981, he won the MVP and Cy Young awards.

Tom Paciorek, who had five hits during the game despite not starting, played 18 MLB seasons with an OPS+ of 103. He made the All-Star team with Seattle in 1981. After his playing days, he became a color commentator, most notably with the White Sox.

Ben Ogilvie led the AL in home runs with 41 home runs in 1980 and was a fearsome part of “Harvey’s Wallbangers”, the slugging bunch that reached the 1982 World Series.

Randy Ready, whose throwing error in the 21st inning led to the second game-tying rally by the White Sox, was a 24-year-old in his second major-league season. He was in the lineup in place of Paul Molitor. Ready is currently the manager of the Gwinnett Braves, Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

Juan Agosto, who pitched the final four innings the first night and the first three innings the following day, spent his entire 13-year career as a reliever. The 7-inning scoreless outing was the longest of his career, as well as the best overall pitching performance of the game.

Chuck Porter started 34 games for the Brewers and appeared in 20 others between 1981 and 1985. His most extensive playing time was in the 1983-84 seasons. His primary claim to fame remains the home run he surrendered to Baines to end the game.

Ron Reed’s final season was 1984, when he saved 12 games for the White Sox. After being a league-average starter during the first half of his career, he became an effective reliever for the Phillies. He won 146 games and saved another 103 during a 19-year career.

Floyd Bannister was the #1 overall pick in the 1976 amateur draft. He never lived up to that billing, however. In his 15-year career, he made the All-Star team once, with Seattle, during a 1982 season in which he led the AL in strikeouts with 209. His son, Brian, also reached the majors, pitching for the Royals and Mets from 2006-2010.

Seaver would go on to win 33 games with Chicago between 1984-86. His final game occurred on Sept. 19, 1986, after being traded to Boston. He would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992, with the highest first-ballot total of all time (98.8%). He won 311 games, three Cy Young award, the 1967 Rookie of the Year and boasts a lifetime ERA of 2.86 (and a park-adjusted ERA+ of 127).

Milwaukee starter Don Sutton pitched until 1988, when he was 43. He was a reliable starter for manh contending teams and reach the postseason four times. Never a dominating pitcher, he nonetheless amassed 324 wins and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998. He has done color commentary for Atlanta Braves games for many years.

Bob Fallon’s final appearance in the majors would be 13 months later, on June 23, 1985. But for one night, he matched a Hall of Famer pitch-for-pitch for six innings.

The attendance for the Brewers-White Sox game was 14,754. There is no record of how many of those fans stayed for the full 17 innings the first night, nor how many came back for the final eight innings the following afternoon. But those fans who did witnessed a piece of baseball history that has not been replicated in the 29 years since.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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