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This day in baseball history — baseball’s longest game gives rise to a pitching star

The 1964 baseball season produced two outstanding pennant races. In the National League, where the Philadelphia Phillies famously folded, the top three teams ended the season within one game of each other, and a fourth was just three games off the pace. In the American League, the three top teams finished within two games of each other.

At the beginning of June both races seemed very much up for grabs. In the NL, the Phillies held a half game lead over the San Francisco Giants. The St. Louis Cards were 2.5 games off the lead. Three other teams — the Milwaukee Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cincinnati Reds — were all within striking distance, no more than 5 games behind Philadelphia. The World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers were 6 games out.

In the AL, the Chicago White Sox, with the best record in baseball, were half a game ahead of the Baltimore Orioles. The New York Yankees were in a three way tie third place, 4 games behind Chicago. But most observers considered New York the team to beat.

The big news, though, was not the pennant races but the 23 inning game played the day before between San Francisco and the New York Mets — the second game of a Memorial Weekend doubleheader. The Giants won the marathon 8-6 to complete the doubleheader sweep. It was the longest Major League baseball game ever played.

The game featured a remarkable 10 inning relief stint by Gaylord Perry. The spitballer came on in the 13th inning and pitched through the 22nd. He allowed no runs, seven hits, and only one walk.

In the top of the 23rd, Del Crandall, batting for Perry, drove home Jim Davenport, who had tripled with two out, with the winning run. Bob Hendley came on for Perry and picked up the save.

At the time, Perry was s struggling young pitcher best known for being Jim Perry’s younger brother. As he tells it, serial poor performances had put him in the doghouse of Giants manager Alvin Dark, making him “the eleventh man on an eleven man pitching staff” with “the twelfth man in Tacoma.” Indeed, Perry entered the game with a 4.76 ERA (and left it with a 3.00 mark).

Perry’s performance against the Mets jump-started his career. Soon he was back in the starting rotation. He would finish the season with a 2.75 ERA and finish his career 20 years later with 314 wins. According to Perry, the 23 inning game “turned me around” because it “gave my teammates, my coaching staff, the manager and the front office [confidence] that this kid is ready to be in the rotation and win ballgames.”

The Mets received not one but two stellar long relief performances. Larry Bearnarth pitched seven shut-out innings, during which he gave up only three hits (but four walks). He had also worked two innings in the first game of the day. Galen Cisco pitched nine shut-out innings before yielding the two runs that decided the game in the 23rd inning. He had allowed only two hits until that inning.

Eight players — Jesus Alou, Willie Mays, Tom Haller, Roy McMillan, Frank Thomas, Joe Christopher, Ed Kranepool, and Jim Hickman — all had 10 at-bats. Alou and Mays each had 11 plate appearances.

None of the above went hitless. Alou, Haller, and Christopher each had four hits. Hickman struck out four times. In all, Giant pitchers notched 22 strikeouts. This broke the record of 21 which had been set by Tom Cheney and the Washington Senators in a 16 inning game.

Mays, one of the great defensive center fielders of all time, played three innings at shortstop. It was the second (and last) time he would play that position in the majors.

Here’s how it happened. Alvin Dark had Matty Alou pinch hit for his third baseman Jim Ray Hart in the tenth inning. It was a good move because the Giants had a runner on third base with two out. Wisely seeking to preserve his bench, Dark then moved Jim Davenport from shortstop to third base, kept Alou in the game as his centerfielder, and moved Mays to shortstop.

Here’s how it unhappened. In the bottom of the 13th, Cap Peterson batted for pitcher Ron Herbel. Peterson stayed in the game at third base and Davenport moved back to shortstop. Mays resumed his spot in centerfield, with Alou moving to left field. Left-fielder Harvey Kuenn departed with Gaylord Perry, the new pitcher, taking Kuenn’s spot in the batting order.

Dark was no stranger to over-managing, but his moves look pretty shrewd to me. Perhaps that’s because no grounders were hit to Mays or to Peterson (an outfielder who played only 10 games at third during his Major League career).

The game took 7 hours and 23 minutes. The first game took 2 hours and 29 minutes.

Attendance at Shea Stadium for the big holiday doubleheader against a top NL contender and former New York club full of stars was 57,037. How many stayed for the entire ten hours of baseball? I don’t know, but according to this account the vendors were all gone by the 15th inning.

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