Long game in Houston

The game that had begun in Houston on June 3, 1989, ended with a line drive single to right off the bat of Rafael Ramirez that scored Bill Doran from second. It started seven hours and 14 minutes earlier with a Willie Randolph fly ball to Gerald Young in center field.

My friend Brad and I watched the first nine innings on television, but with the score tied at 4-4, we decided to grab some dinner and catch a movie. It was, after all, a Saturday night and we were eligible. Maybe a little too eligible, but that’s a whole other story.

I don’t remember where we ate or what we saw, but I do know that when we returned to his house, the game was still going. The next day’s starting pitcher (actually, by now, it was today’s starting pitcher), Fernando Valenzuela, had come in to play first base; future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray had moved from first to third; and third baseman Jeff Hamilton was on the mound.

Innocuous beginning

The game started innocently enough. After Randolph flied out on the first pitch he saw from left-hander Bob Knepper, two singles and an intentional walk to Murray loaded the bases for Hamilton, who whacked a single back up the middle to give the Dodgers an early 2-0 lead.

Los Angeles added a run in the third. Murray doubled to lead off the frame, advanced to third on a ground out, and scored on a wild pitch. (John Shelby, who had been on second base, also attempted to score but was nailed at the plate.)

The Astros scored once in the bottom of the fourth, and the Dodgers responded in the top of the fifth. In the sixth, Houston finally got to starter Tim Leary. More accurately, Leary got to himself.

After retiring Billy Hatcher and Young on ground outs to start the inning, Leary walked Doran. Then he walked Glenn Davis (this is when he was a dangerous hitter, well before the trade that cost Baltimore youngsters Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch, and Curt Schilling). Terry Puhl, an underappreciated hitter of that era, also walked to load the bases for a then-unknown Ken Caminiti.

The late Tim Crews replaced Leary on the mound, with Mike Scioscia taking over for Rick Dempsey behind the plate. Crews promptly allowed singles to Caminiti and Ramirez, before striking out a young catcher out of Seton Hall named Craig Biggio.

After that, 95 outs were recorded before another run scored.

Missed opportunities

Each team had its chances. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the seventh, but Hamilton popped out to Davis to end the inning. They put runners at the corners the following frame, only to see that rally killed by a line drive to first off the bat of Scioscia that turned into a double play.

LA’s best opportunity probably came in the 21st inning. Scioscia walked and Randolph singled. A passed ball moved both men into scoring position with no outs. Mike Davis then struck out, and pitcher Orel Hershiser grounded to third, with Scoscia being thrown out at home. Murray then lined to shortstop Ramirez to end the frame.

The Astros squandered a few chances of their own. In the seventh, with runners at the corners and two out, John Wetteland fanned Davis to quell the threat.

In the 11th, Houston came dangerously close to winning. Craig Reynolds led off with a single. One out later, Hatcher doubled to left, putting runners at second and third with one out. Young then flied to center, with Reynolds being gunned down at home by Shelby.

Three innings later, the Astros had runners at first and second with one out, but Davis rapped into a 4-3 double play. The following inning, they had an even better opportunity, but with the bases loaded and one out, catcher Alex Trevino flied into 7-2 double play. (The “7” in that play was Tony Gwynn’s little brother, Chris Gwynn.)

Hamilton takes the hill

In the end, it all came down to a third baseman pitching and a pitcher playing first base. Hamilton had entered in the 21st inning to replace Hershiser. He retired the side in order on 10 pitches, including a strikeout of Hatcher. I remember this part because Hamilton was throwing hard and he was throwing strikes. Unlike most position players who take the mound, he actually looked like a pitcher (he hit like one, too, but I digress).

In the fateful 22nd, Hamilton served up a leadoff single to Doran. He then got Davis to ground back to the box, with Doran advancing to second on the play. After issuing an intentional walk to Puhl, Hamilton fanned Caminiti (oh, the indignity!), bringing up Ramirez.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Ramirez, for those who never saw him play, was one of those guys who would drive you crazy. He was erratic in nearly all phases of his game, which on occasion made him very dangerous. For instance, he would swing at horrible pitches and sometimes manage to hit them.

In this matchup, Hamilton quickly jumped ahead of Ramirez, 0-2. He then delivered a pitch that, as I recall, may have caught a little too much plate but not enough that Ramirez should have been able to do anything with it.

Seems nobody told Ramirez, who reached out and swatted the ball toward first base. The 6-foot-2 Murray would have caught it without any effort and sent the game into a 23rd inning. The 5-foot-11 Valenzuela, however, only managed to get his glove on the ball even after jumping for it. Had he not touched it at all, Mike Davis in right field would have kept Doran at third or thrown him out at the plate.

But Valenzuela did knick the ball, slowing it just enough to allow Doran to score ahead of Davis’ throw (which, again going on memory, almost got there in time anyway). Veteran right-hander Jim Clancy picked up the win, with Hamilton taking the loss and becoming the first position player to earn a decision since Rocky Colavito won for the Yankees against Detroit nearly 21 years earlier.

The game featured a total of 640 pitches. Five pitchers worked four innings or more. The longest stint came from Hershiser, who entered the game to start the 14th and left after the 20th. Shelby had the most miserable game imaginable, going 0-for-10 and seeing his batting average drop 10 points to .153.

Just another day (or two) at the ballpark…

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