Hi all. Last night’s epic 16-inning game in Anaheim wasn’t one I could write about the second it was over if that were practical. Even without today’s necessary errands, I would have taken time to figure out how to tell you of the 16-inning back-and-forth struggle that ended at 4 AM Eastern time with the visiting Orioles getting a rare win.
After the madcap Yankees’ win in Minnesota on Tuesday night, I doubted we fans could get anything goofier than that, at least for a while. So I spent part of the next couple of days cozied up to a book about the 33-inning minor league game in 1981. That game featured the Rochester RedWings (Orioles) and the Pawtucket Red Sox in a game that had to be suspended at 4 AM and resumed two months later when the two teams played again. One iconic name, Cal Ripkin jR. played in that game, as did Wade Boggs, Bobby Ojeda and Rich Gedman for Pawtucket.
So I had bedded down, but being a poor sleeper I awoke just after 2 A.M. As I usually do, I checked the baseball scores. I was mildly surprised to find the O’s and Angels knotted at 5 in the last of the 11th. So I tuned in to the Orioles’ broadcast team of Jim Hunter and Ben McDonald. I heard Hunter when he was in college at Seton Hall. Their radio station, WSOU, was at that time just about as good as a college station could be. The station can be justly proud of Hunter, as well as Matt Loughlin, now voice of the Devils, and Jim Wise who for a time was public address announcer for the Philadelphia 76Ers. A decade later, McDonald pitched for LSU and the US Olympic team. He could well have been overused by his coach at LSU who was known for working his pitchers as though winning at Omaha was worth more than their future careers. While he was undistinguished as a pitcher, I was impressed by his broadcasting ability working alongside Hunter. They’re not full partners exactly. The O’s apparently chose quantity over quality when beloved Joe Angel called it a career. They have quite a number of men listed as radio broadcasters of whom Hunter is the only one I could have picked out of a lineup before last night–or should I say, this morning.
Like the 33-inning game of long ago, this one had its twists and turns. This one at least was played in balmy California as opposed to frigid Rhode Island. Steve Wilkerson did a sterling Manny Ramirez impression in the outfield to allow a run to score in the 7th. The career .217 hitter then hit a rare RBI-double to square things. The game, which had begun just after 10 PM Eastern would have ended at a reasonable hour if O’s closer Mychal (Mitchell) Givens had done what a closer is paid to do. But a closer for the dreadful Orioles has little chance to practice actually saving games, and Givens wasn’t up to it. The Angels’ Brian Goodwin uncorked a home run of his own, knotting the game at 5. That’s where it stood when I tuned in a few innings later. In spite of what so many people say about baseball, I wasn’t lulled to sleep by the fact that nobody scored in the next few innings. On the contrary, I was riveted, waiting to see who might blink first-Each team going through pitchers like there was no tomorrow. By the end each would have used 10 pitchers. The Angels were first to blink in the top of the 15th. Jace Peterson, in his first MLB game this year singled home a pair and the Birds had an 8-5 lead off the Angels’ 10th pitcher, Griffin Canning. In a sane world, he was scheduled to be the starter of a game that will probably begin around the time I publish this. The Angels rallied back off Tanner Scott. He walked more men than the Yankees’ bull pen in their game Tuesday night. With the score 8-6 and the bases full, he faced Mike Trout, a name which in 20 years or so will be enshrined in Cooperstown with Mantle, DiMaggio and Williams. Scott never had a prayer. Trout drilled a two-bagger. Two men scored and runner David Fletcher dashed for home. O’s shortstop Jonathan Villar fired to the catcher. Everybody in the park, even Hunter and McDonald in the radio booth thought he was safe. However, somebody downstairs, we’ll never know who, thought Fletcher was out and called for a review, the single thing doing more to ruin baseball than anything else. You could have read “The Face on the Barroom Floor” at least once during the time that review lasted. At long last, New York informed the umps in Anaheim that by their reckoning Fletcher was out. The game remained tied and the teams played on. Villar, hero of the throw with the delayed result, hit a 2-run home run in the top of the 16th off the beleaguered Canning who gave up 5 runs in his 2 innings.
So the O’s had a lead of 10–8. But where could they turn next? They’d been through 9 pitchers. Their last man standing, Tanner Scott was gassed (baseball lingo for exhausted.) Remember Steve Wilkerson? That Steve Wilkerson who first messed things up on defense, then doubled a run home? Turns out he had pitched twice in mopup duty for the O’s, and when his manager Brandon Hyde called for volunteers, Wilkerson bravely raised his right hand. Unlike Tanner Scott, Wilkerson didn’t get the bases loaded and then walk another man to let in a run. Also unlike Scott, Wilkerson didn’t uncork a pitch of 90, 80, 70 or even 60 MPH. I guess there’s no law that says you have to. The Angels may have laughed at his deliveries, but they couldn’t hit them into the night. The first two went down, and then it was aging Albert Pujols. He’s been aging ever since the Angels made the mistake of signing him. He’ll find Cooperstown way before Mike Trout does, but he’ll do it in large part based on what he did for the Cardinals. He’s been an All-Star exactly once since the Angels got him in 2012 and has never won an award in his adopted league after winning the NL MVP 3 times, not to mention being an NL All-Star 9 times. Now, the outfielder playing dressup as a pitcher got the faded superstar to ground out, ending the 6 hour, 19-minute marathon. He had also ended a game that lasted 6 hours 31 minutes and 19 innings, the longest ever played in Anaheim. He won that one with a walk-off home run, but that was years ago. The kid who played for Clemson gave a new meaning to the term “Utility player.” Nobody other than a pitcher had received a save since the stat began to be kept in 1969. Now, in the mountains of South Carolina, one of their boys is being remembered and praised for getting his name in the MLB record book. Men will be drawling about Stevie Wilkerson for years, maybe generations considering how seriously they take their baseball at Clemson. They remember Billy O’Dell who pitched for the Giants in the 1962 World Series, the Astros’ Denny Walling a generation later, Tim Teufel who played a role with the ’86 Mets and Jimmy Key who won game 6 of the 1996 World Series for the Yankees. All have ties to Clemson, as does the outfielder who saved last night’s game, Steve Wilkerson.0