From here to eternity

The National Pastime is a timeless sport without the need for clocks, but sometimes that can be a curse.

Originally Published: June 18, 2004
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Ah, the timelessness of baseball.

It's a beautiful thing -- if you're a poet. Or a purist.

It's not such a beautiful thing if you've just set a new career record for sleep deprivation after watching 1.8 trillion rain drops fall on your ballpark in four days.

But the timelessness of baseball can take many forms. So Wild Pitches proudly presents a salute to that eternal timelessness with a look at a game, a rain-delay festival and an at-bat that seemed to have a legitimate chance to achieve the ultimate in timeless baseball perfection -- by never ending:

Bagel Boys of the Month
Not to suggest the Angels and Brewers had a little trouble scoring runs on the ever-memorable evening of June 8. But ...

Junior Spivey
Junior Spivey wipes his eyes between pitches in the 16th inning of the June 8 game.

They put so many zeroes on the scoreboard, it looked like the display case at Krispy Kreme.

They inspired the Rally Monkey to seek political asylum at the zoo.

They made your typical World Cup game look like Mavericks-Kings.

Yes, friends. This was the magic, the splendor, the pageantry of an unforgettable night on the diamond at Angel Stadium of Anaheim: Brewers 1, Angels 0 in 17 action-packed innings.

It will soon, no doubt, be available at your local Blockbuster, under the title: "The Story of 0000000000000000." Here's our exclusive Wild Pitches report:

THE "HITTERS": There was so little offense, Brewers coach-witticist Rich Donnelly told Wild Pitches, that while these two teams were hitting, "they could have dragged the infield every inning. It went on so long, they had to cut the grass by the end of the game. They could have put tractors everywhere. It wouldn't have bothered anybody."

By our calculations, 117 batters showed up at home plate before any of them figured out a way to drive in a run. Eleven pitchers combined to launch 472 pitches -- and it took 457 until one of them inflicted any damage on his ERA.

There were 33 strikeouts. And at least that many broken bats. Between all the foul thunkers and all the bat splinters, Donnelly said, "there were more pieces of wood in the infield than I've ever seen in my life. I thought I'd gone to Sherwood Forest."

THE HISTORY LESSON: OK, so there may not have been much reason to turn on the scoreboard during this game. But there was plenty of history.

The last time I saw that many swings and misses it was at the Steubenville (Ohio) Tough Man Contest. I think it was at a fight between two girls who worked in a mill.
Brewers coach Rich Donnelly

  • There have been just nine longer 1-0 games since 1900.

  • The winning team struck out 26 times -- the most ever by a team that still managed to win.

  • The Brewers' No. 3 hitter, Geoff Jenkins, struck out six times all by himself -- the first time in history any player had ever whiffed that many times in a winning cause.

    "The last time I saw that many swings and misses," Donnelly quipped, "it was at the Steubenville [Ohio] Tough Man Contest. I think it was at a fight between two girls who worked in a mill."

    The Brewers had four hitters -- Jenkins, Lyle Overbay, Keith Ginter and Ben Grieve -- combine to go 1-for-27, with 19 strikeouts. Which helped this juggernaut join the 1971 Angels (in a 20-inning game) as the only teams ever to punch out 26 times in one game.

    And it's a good thing the pitcher (Ben Sheets) didn't hit, Donnelly said, or "we'd have broken that record easy." The pitcher? Heck, where was Jose Hernandez when they needed him?

    But the Angels weren't exactly the kings of swing, either. Sheets held them without a baserunner until two outs in the seventh inning. And they were 1-for-their-first-38 until they got their second hit of the night. In the 13th inning. On a bunt single. By the catcher (Jose Molina).

    "I've seen more hits," Donnelly joked, "on a bad slot machine."

    THE PRINCIPAL PRIMATE: What made that Angels meltdown so shocking was that we thought they'd devised a sureproof formula for avoiding offensive debacles of this sort. And by that, we don't mean: Signing Vladimir Guerrero.

    We're talking, of course, about the mystical powers of the Angel with a better vertical leap than Jason Richardson -- YouKnowWho.

    "That Rally Monkey was exhausted, man," Donnelly reported. "They had him jumping every inning from the eighth on. By the 17th, he couldn't jump over a box of matches. That's the most he's jumped in his whole career.

    "Usually, he just has to jump one inning, they score, and that's it. Keeps him fresh. But he didn't look too fresh by the 17th. I think he pulled a calf muscle. He might have to go on the DL."

    THE LONELINESS OF THE THIRD-BASE COACH: But if that Rally Monkey felt powerless, how about our favorite third-base coach? Donnelly had less to do to occupy his time than Rich Garces' personal trainer.

    "I talked to Chone Figgins [the Angels' third baseman] a lot," Donnelly said. "I talked to Jim Joyce, the umpire over there. I was very close to their dugout, so I talked to all their starting pitchers. It was nice to meet them. I didn't talk to any of my guys. The only one who stopped by was [Craig] Counsell, and he was moving realllll quickly."

    Podsednik
    Podsednik

    THE GRAND FINALE: It was Counsell, you see, who finally broke the five-hour monotony by actually scoring a run -- on a double by Scott Podsednik, whose shot at heroism finally arrived in his eighth at-bat of the night. So the Brewers scored. And won. And that was the good news.

    The bad news was, the postgame food spread wasn't quite as sumptuous after the 17th inning as it probably was when it was laid out three hours earlier.

    "It was like eating two ear muffs on dry toast," said Rich Donnelly. But no matter how little joy he had in chewing his ear muffs, he still felt better than that Rally Monkey.

    "I felt sorry for that monkey," Donnelly said. "He came out shooting fire. By about the 14th inning, he just put up his hand and said, 'Aw, the hell with it.' "

    Rain Men of the Month
    They took on more water than the Titanic. They spent more time playing cards than those sharks on the World Series of Poker. They saw more of their friendly neighborhood tarp than they did of their wives, kids and other assorted loved ones.

    We're not sure how to explain the meteorological forces that descended on the Phillies in Philadelphia this week. But in a mere 77-hour period (Monday, June 14, through Thursday, June 17), they slogged through more than 8½ hours of rain delays, played two games that ended on different days than they started and spent approximately 43 of their 56 waking hours at the ballpark.

    Glanville
    Glanville

    "They might start charging us rent," Phillies outfield-humorist Doug Glanville told Wild Pitches. "It could be a new revenue stream."

    Days began to run into each other. It became impossible to distinguish day from night, pregame from postgame, Reds from Tigers, breakfast time from dinner time.

    "It's like a time-space continuum," Glanville said. "I'm still here in the same spot I've been standing in for the last three days. I told all the guys I was playing cards with: 'I'm sick of seeing you guys.' It's like Groundhog's Day."

    And to think this all began with a game Monday that was billed as, potentially, one of the most historic milestone games ever: Junior Griffey a homer away from 500, Jim Thome a homer away from 400. Let's recap:

    THE 400 CLUB: Griffey never did play. But at least Thome held up his end, bashing No. 400 in the first inning, in front of 43,000 whooping, flash-bulb-popping witnesses. But by the time he got back to the plate for his fourth at-bat of the night, the scene was a little different.

    Since it was 1:27 a.m. at the time, after nearly four hours of rain delays. And there were probably more humans occupying your average subway car about then than were occupying the Citizens Bank Rainforest. Estimated attendance: 112.

    "Reminded me of the old days back in Municipal Stadium in Cleveland," Thome reminisced. "It was like that every night."

    Jim Thome
    APThome acknowledges the crowd after hitting home run No. 400.

    THE NOT-SO-INSTANT REPLAY: Those magic baseball moments are great -- the first time around. But what might have separated Thome's magic moment from all those other moments is: It almost didn't count.

    It was followed, naturally, by a 2-hour, 18-minute rain delay in the third inning. And even Thome had to wonder, as the delay dragged on, if that emotional, fist-pumping trip he'd just taken around the bases was about to get filed under: "Never Mind."

    "You know what worried me," he told Wild Pitches. "I was thinking, 'What if I've gotta do it again?' That would have been kind of tough. It would have felt like Mark McGwire, hitting that [62nd] homer off Steve Trachsel, and then they say, 'OK, let's do it again.' Nobody wants to do that."

    But if you think that would have been challenging for him, it might have been even more challenging for his wife, Andrea. She burst into tears as the ball left the premises -- with the videotape rolling, of course. Suppose she'd have had to recreate that scene a time or two?

    "Maybe between the second and third time he did it," Glanville mused, "she'd have to take an acting class [on how to keep crying over and over]. Either that or put it on a continuous-loop videotape."

    THE HOOPLA: Meanwhile, Thome's teammates would have faced their own challenge if that homer had gotten rained out. Their big question: How do you fittingly commemorate the same milestone you've already commemorated?

    "I think we'd have to have a different kind of party each time," Glanville suggested. "The first time you get champagne. The second time, maybe a day at a spa. And the third time, a tickertape parade."

    Yeah, that sounds about right. But we actually tracked down a guy who once did have to hit a milestone home run three times. That was long-time Tigers slugger Willie Horton, who had to keep hitting No. 300, back in June, 1979, until it counted. And by the way, he's still awaiting his tickertape serenade.

    The first time he hit it, it was rained out. The second, the ball clanked into a speaker in the Kingdome in Seattle. Finally, on the third try, he got No. 300 to land in the seats. But he was so determined to get this over with by then, he told Wild Pitches, he warned his wife he was going to take the most furious hack of his career the first time up.

    "I told her, 'If you don't get there for the first inning and I haven't hit it by then, you better just meet me at the hospital,' " Horton said, "because if I swing and miss that thing, that's where I'll be at.' "

    THE PRESS CONFERENCE: It isn't often a guy hits a milestone home run and doesn't get to the interview room afterward for seven hours. But thanks to all those rain drops, that's how it worked out for Thome.

    It was after 2:30 a.m. when he finally bopped into his postgame press conference, looked around at his weary media audience and uttered the immortal words: "Fellas, you're still up?"

    THE INVISIBLE MAN: Thanks to that river that fell out of the sky, Billy Wagner was even more unhittable than usual Monday.

    Wagner
    Wagner

    You can find his name in the box score. He got credit for an "appearance." But he neglected to do one thing normally associated with those developments:

    He never threw a pitch.

    He came in. He warmed up for the ninth inning. And then ... there was no ninth inning. The game then got rained out, doing wonders for his pitches-per-appearance ratio.

    "We just had an appearance by the Invisible Man," Glanville reported. "I've always thought we needed a term for this, like 'invisible appearances.' I think we should start a new stat for that. Like when you go up to pinch-hit and then they bring in a new pitcher and they pinch-hit for you before you bat. I call them, 'Scares.' I want to put that in my next contract -- a 'scares' incentive clause."

    THE WINDOW WIZARDS: There used to be a time when players watched other baseball games during rain delays. Nowadays, they watch The Radar Channel.

    Asked for a report on what he did during his post-homer delay, Thome said: "I watched the Doppler for about an hour. I don't know how they got any windows [to play]. I was watching, and I didn't see any."

    But for four days, the absence of any visible breaks on that Doppler never stopped the Phillies or the umpires from aspiring to play baseball. They must both own stock in Windex, because they sure did see through a lot of windows nobody else could see.

    "I'm going to bring in a Pella window tomorrow and put it by my locker," Glanville chuckled, "because no matter how hard it rains, there's always a window."

    ROLLIN' ON A RIVER: In retrospect, it seems a shame to have wasted all that water on mere rain delays. You'd think there would be something more worthwhile, more innovative, more useful to society that could be done with it while everybody was waiting around to play.

    If you're a Wild Pitches regular, you won't be shocked to learn that Glanville had some solutions.

    For the bored customers: "We can open a Wet 'n Wild," he proposed. "We'll tell the fans: 'Come with your bathing suit.' "

    And for the players, who undoubtedly were searching for ways to fulfill their competitive instincts: "We should start building an ark, maybe have a boat race. They build an ark. We build an ark. Then we can race down the Schuykill or something."

    At-bat of the Month
    We've all contemplated the frighteningly beautiful question: Suppose you went to a baseball game, and it never ended.

    This is possible, you understand -- because, as we've discussed earlier, baseball is The Sport With No Clock. So, in theory, a game could last forever (which, believe it or not, is even longer than the NBA playoffs). Or, to be technical, one inning could last forever.

    Cora
    Cora

    Or, as Dodgers second baseman Alex Cora proved last month, a mere one at-bat could last forever. Well, close, anyway.

    When Cora stepped in to face Cubs pitcher Matt Clement in the seventh inning of a May 12 Cubs-Dodgers game, he had no idea he'd still be standing in the same batter's box 14 minutes later. But then, nobody did. And that's too bad. Just think what a guy could normally get accomplished in 14 minutes.

    He could eat a Dodger Dog. Or possibly three. He could read the entire sports section of the L.A. Times. Every freaking word. Heck, he could just about drive the length of the Pacific Coast Highway, drop in for lunch with Gov. Schwarzenegger and maybe get through Medicine School at UCLA.

    Because 14 minutes, is a long, long, lonngggg time.

    How long is it? Greg Maddux could throw about six innings in 14 minutes. Barry Bonds could draw three intentional walks in 14 minutes. George Steinbrenner could sign 11 free agents in 14 minutes.

    Or Alex Cora could see 18 pitches in one at-bat. And foul off 14 of them in a row. And, after all that time, never even get to a full count. Which ought to be impossible.

    But it all happened, in one already-legendary duel at Dodger Stadium last month. Dodgers broadcasting icon Vin Scully told Wild Pitches it "topped any at-bat I've ever seen." And in 55 years of broadcasting, it's a reasonable estimate that Scully has seen approximately 2.8 billion at-bats.

    It's hard to believe that this one began with Cora taking the first three pitches -- a ball, a called strike and another ball. He then swung at the next 14 in a row -- and fouled every one of them off.

    "At first, when something like that happens, you're not really counting," he said. "But around the eighth pitch, I got a note [from his statistician] that said, 'This is the eighth pitch of the at-bat.' So after that, I'd say, 'He fouled off No. 9.' And, 'He fouled off No. 10.' And on and on."

    Somewhere in there, he slipped in a story about the greatest foul-ball king he ever saw, Richie Ashburn. But this battle went on so long, even Scully isn't sure what else he might have rhapsodized about.

    "As Mark Twain said," Scully chuckled, "I'm getting to that age where I'm starting to remember things that never even happened."

    But he remembers how this ended, all right. It ended in about the least-likely way imaginable -- with a home run. By a guy who had hit one homer all season. And has hit one in the five weeks since.

    "If you put a finish like that in a good novel," Scully said, "the editors would throw it out and say, 'That's impossible.' "

    Well, it just about was. Here at Wild Pitches, we've done our best to keep track of long at-bats over the years. And we don't know of any longer at-bat by anybody in at least the last 15 seasons.

    We know the longest of the 1990s was another 18-pitch classic, on May 18, 1997, between the Royals' Bip Roberts and the Tigers' Felipe Lira. With the help of retrosheet.org's Dave Smith, we've verified there haven't been any others that long in the last three years. We might have missed one somewhere in between. But we doubt it.

    And the real proof of just how improbable this at-bat was is this: It took Alex Cora another week and a half before he even played a game in which he saw 18 pitches. Let alone in one at-bat. So this one almost seemed like a work of fate.

    "Alex said his mother was home asleep," Scully reported. "And when she woke up, the TV was on, and it was during that at-bat. So his mother said God woke her up, just so she could see that at-bat."

    Meanwhile, though, another member of the Cora family didn't need any divine intervention. That was his big brother, Joey, the former big-league infielder who is now a coach with the White Sox. He was wide awake for all 18 pitches and all 14 minutes.

    He told the Chicago Sun-Times' Doug Padilla that he was watching this all unfold in a bar with Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

    "We had a beer on the first pitch," Joey Cora said. "And by the end of the at-bat, we were so [stinking] drunk that we had to call a cab to take us home."

    Ah, the timelessness of baseball. It will be coming soon to a ballpark near you. So just in case, better bring your sleeping bag.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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