The typical length of a Major League Baseball game is nine innings, but if the score is tied, the game continues into extra innings. When a game goes 18 innings, twice the normal length, then that’s double your pleasure. I’m joking, as these long games become somewhat tedious. But at a certain point, everyone realizes that they are participating in something that has an element of history to it, since only about 0.05% of all games reach 18 innings.
Yesterday, the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants finished off an 18 inning marathon at about 1:00 a.m. local time, at which time the fireworks began (literally). Giants first baseman Brandon Belt ripped a double to the wall and came around to score on backup catcher Eric Kratz’s groundout. By the way, that backup catcher is 38 years old and he caught the entire 18 inning game. Can you say ‘knee surgery’?
My mention of fireworks was not a joke because this was a scheduled fireworks game. That is, every fan who bought a ticket was promised a fireworks show at the end of the game. That’s a common promotion in baseball games with some teams doing it a few times per year.
Seattle Mariners Fireworks Night, example from a recent year. Source: MLB.com.
But when extra innings meet fireworks promotions, neighbors are awoken at odd hours of the morning. And a ghost stirs as well. The ghost of one of the oddest games ever played: July 4, 1985 in Atlanta.
Yesterday’s Rockies-Giants game featured a fireworks promotion. So even when the game went 18 innings, the team still was obligated to honor its commitment to fans to set off fireworks at the end of the game. And today’s media outlets reported on angry neighbors who were awoken when the stadium set off these fireworks at 1:00 a.m.
That was nothing. From July 4-5, 1985, there was a legendary game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. That one culminated with an Independence Day fireworks show at 4:00 a.m. on the morning of July 5. Seriously, the game lasted until 3:55 a.m. and since the team had sold the rights to the fireworks show to somebody (not to mention to the few remaining, long suffering fans), the rockets went off at 4:00 a.m. the morning after Independence Day.
With the historical backdrop of that 1985 game in Atlanta, yesterday’s 18 innings and 1 a.m. fireworks seem like child’s play. But they remind us of the great 1985 game. That, in turn, provides me an excuse to mention a few facts about it.
Box score of the July 4, 1985 game.
The 1985 game took 19 innings. It also had more than two hours of rain delays. The umpires and league probably should have suspended it, but they played on. From first pitch to the end of the game spanned 8 hours and 15 minutes, which is a major league record for the longest game by length (but not by innings; there was a 26 inning game in 1920).
After nine innings of regulation ball, the game was tied at 8-8. It ended after 19 innings with a final score of 16-13 in favor of the Mets. So there were a number of go-ahead runs scored in those late innings, which the opposing team matched to keep the game going longer. There were other notable events in the game that most people have forgotten about, including Darryl Strawberry and the Mets Manager being ejected early in the game and Keith Hernandez hitting for the cycle (well, he had 10 at bats in which to do it).
Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets. Source: SI.com.
Probably the most iconic moment in the 1985 game, and the one the qualified as the weirdest, came in the bottom of the 18th inning. All but one of the players on both teams’ rosters played in this game, and the Atlanta Braves were forced to let pitcher Rick Camp come up to hit.
“Rick Camp couldn’t hit a lick,” Braves first baseman Gerald Perry recalled.
“Rick Camp was known as the worst hitting pitcher in baseball,” added Braves announcer John Sterling. He told his broadcasting partner, “Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.”
Added Ron Darling, a Mets pitcher at the time, “Rick Camp – and I say this with affection – was just not a good hitting pitcher. He was probably among the five worst hitting pitchers in the National League.”
Rick Camp's Topps baseball card.
The Mets had scored a run in the top of the 18th inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Braves made two quick outs. As Rick Camp strode to the plate, Braves players figured the game was pretty much over. “He was just not a very good hitter at all,” said Braves second basemen Paul Zuvella. “You’re down and he’s up, and you just think, ‘OK, we’re done.’”
Rick Camp’s career batting average was .075 and for the year it was .060. With Camp coming up, the Mets infielders played in to get an easy out on an infield play, expecting a weak hit. He was down a quick two strikes. Everyone, probably including most Braves players and fans, expected (and even wanted?) the game to be over.
Instead, Rick Camp did something no one expected. He hit the ball over the fence for a game-tying home run. It was the only home run of his career. And it extended the game longer. The left fielder put his hands on his head.
But Camp was absolutely spent as a pitcher. When the game resumed in Inning 19, he allowed some runs and that was effectively the end of it. Yet some remember this as “The Rick Camp Game” because his home run was the improbable capstone on an improbably, historical game.
And then, with the game finally over, the July 4 Independence Day fireworks could officially begin…at 4:00 a.m. on July 5. THE following video has the game highlights.
Top image: Public domain. Other images credited within the text.