“You know, what can you say? Finally.” — RailRiders slugger Randy Ruiz
The date: July 25, 2013
The place: PNC Field
The situation: It started so innocently. Overcast skies. Humid, and 74 degrees. Almost no wind. And a getaway day for both teams.Just a typical, summer evening at the ballpark.
Until it wasn’t.
The lead-in: For a while, it looked like your typical International League pitchers duel between a veteran lefty and another southpaw on the rise. RailRiders lefty David Huff struck out seven in his seven innings, while former Tigers prospect and current Phillies reliever Jose Alvarez danced around the eight hits he allowed in the first six innings — getting some help in the fifth when Mud Hens outfielder Ben Guez threw RailRiders shortstop Alberto Gonzalez out at the plate.
They both left the game after seven innings, with the score tied 1-1. And, it would stay that way.
For a while.
The moment: The big moment here came in the 20th inning, and we’ll get to that.
But what made this the longest game in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s franchise history — both in innings and time elapsed (a cool five hours, 26 minutes) — were two equally unbelievable series of events.
One, the RailRiders’ utter lack of ability to make good on several prime chances.
Two, Toledo’s maddening inability to garner any chances at all.
Guez’s missile of a throw to peg Gonzalez at the plate aside, the RailRiders were the team that squandered chance after chance. In the 10th inning, they loaded the bases with nobody out. But Jose Pirela hit a sharp grounder at drawn-in second baseman Kevin Russo, who threw home for the force. Cody Grice then popped to second, and Gonzalez fanned, wasting that golden opportunity.
In the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th innings, the RailRiders had a runner on and nobody out, or a runner on and one out, and amazingly grounded into double plays in each of those innings to squash any potential rallies.
“We were going up there trying to put the ball in play,” veteran slugger Randy Ruiz said. “Unfortunately, when we had guys on base, we just hit into a lot of double plays.”
That could be considered infinite success, compared to what Toledo managed against the RailRiders bullpen.
The Mud Hens had baserunners on with less than two out in just three innings, and they were only able to advance a runner past first in the top of the 16th, when Mike Cervenak and Danny Dorn started with singles against side-arming lefty Josh Spence. Guez sacrificed them to second and third with one out, but Gonzalez got some defensive revenge, throwing Cervenak out at the plate on a chopper to short for the second out. Spence would escape, and Toledo would never get another baserunner.
In fact, in a 20-inning game, perhaps the most amazing fact is this: Only three Mud Hens players even got a hit.
“The bullpen goes out there and does their job for 13 innings. Thirteen innings of zeroes? That’s awesome,” said reliever Jim Miller, who got the win. “All we’re doing is trying to do is keep going out there, throwing zeroes and giving our guys a chance to go out and win.”
Eventually, they made the most of one of those chances.
The RailRiders had just one hit in the previous five innings themselves when Ruiz strode to the plate to start the 20th and, ironically, ended things quickly. He swing at the first pitch from right-hander Justin Souza, lining it over the wall in right field and setting off a wild celebration at home plate just before 12:30 a.m.
“Damn, that was a long game,” a relieved Ruiz said afterward. “You just have to battle. What else can you say? It went 20 innings.”
About an hour later, both teams ended their long night by starting long travel days. The RailRiders hopped a bus for Newark Liberty Airport, where they caught a flight to Louisville. The Mud Hens had an eight-hour bus ride back to Ohio, where they had a 7 p.m. game the next night. A long time to think about a loss like that.
“Once you start playing past nine innings, it becomes mental, on top of the game being so mental already,” Whitley said. “You go 20, and you lose that, it’s like, ‘What are we doing?’ For their guys, it’s tough.”
HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
The RailRiders didn’t just break the record for the longest game in franchise history. They shattered it.
Before that night, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre teams played 3,601 games, and no regular-season contest lasted more than 17 innings. (One playoff game did go a little bit longer. More about that as the month goes on.)
The record before that night, as far as regular-season contests go, belonged to a pair of 17-inning contests. A game that long hadn’t even been approached in 18 years. The last time it happened: On Aug. 15, 1995 at Lackawanna County Stadium.
And here’s a crazy coincidence: Both of the 17-inning games in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre history that stood as the record before then came against the same team, the stubborn Richmond Braves.
All that said, July 25, 2013 was hardly the longest day of baseball in team history.
On July 16, 2004 in Buffalo, catcher A.J. Hinch — now the manager of the Houston Astros — punched a single to right to start a five-run rally and bring home the winning run in an 8-3 victory in the 16th inning against the Bisons. That game lasted five hours, seven minutes and until the tussle with Toledo stood as the longest game, time-wise, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre ever played — and it wasn’t even the first game they played that day. It was the second game of a doubleheader; the Red Barons played a 5:07 game after losing an 11-1 blowout to Buffalo just before it.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT