Tuesday, April 14, 2015

19 innings in purgatory: My first baseball game of 2015

Mike, who for the purposes of clarification will henceforth in this post be referred to as "Duffman", was two innings late. Last week my stepmother told me she had happened upon four tickets to the Delta Suite at the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game on April 10 and asked me if I would make good use of them. Even with no dog in the fight, the answer to that was obvious, and so I chose to take with me Mike, one of my best friends from high school, ardent Red Sox fan Luisa, one of my best friends from college and her recently-wedded husband, Duffman.

And Duffman was two innings late.

I'm a bit of a stickler for arriving to sporting events on time. I don't like to miss first pitch, but if someone else gets held up or sidetracked, and evidently this was the case, well that's their folly. Mike, Luisa and I had all been at the stadium since 5:30, watching some batting practice, at which Luisa sweet talked her way into a baseball from one of Boston's outfielders, and checking out Yankee Stadium's various exclusive areas to which our tickets provided access. First we went to the Mohegan Sun sports bar, which was about as sterile as one could imagine, and next to the Audi Club in left field, which seemed nice and elegant, but was only slightly less sterile than the Mohegan Sun sports bar. Finally we made our way through the indirect, confusing tunnels that are concourses at Yankee Stadium, and we made our way to the Delta 360 suite where our actual tickets were.

We indulged in the free popcorn, peanuts and soft drinks and watched the game slowly get underway, and all the while we wondered, "Where could Duffman be? He's not usually late to things." And then, at least in my mind, one thought began to pervade as one inning turned into two.

"What if Duffman doesn't get to see enough of the game to make his trip worth the time?"

Over the next seven hours, that concern would be moot, as upon Duffman's arrival the four of us settled in for the longest baseball night of my life, a wild, bizarre, mind-boggling affair in which the exhaustion, disbelief and delirium steadily increased over each of the game's 19 innings.

Yeah, you read that right. 19. Those 19 innings included three blown leads and a 16-minute delay after a power surge knocked out lighting in parts of the stadium -- all after the top of the 9th. Together it comprised the longest night of baseball I have ever seen in person, and if my fried memory can slowly begin to function again, I will try, here, to recount the lunacy.

5:30 p.m. ET -- After arriving an hour and 40 minutes early for batting practice, I join Mike and my friend Luisa, who had arrived 15 minutes earlier, and watch batting practice in the right field corner.

Mike: "How many baseballs have you actually caught at batting practice?"
Me: "I've caught three at BP in my life, once I caught a bona fide foul ball off Shane Victorino in Cleveland in 2007."
Mike: "How often do you come to BP?"
Me: "Frequently."

While I do not get close to a ball, Luisa is able to coax one out of a Boston outfielder with me directing his attention to her Red Sox cap.

6:15 p.m. ET -- After being ushered out of the section by Yankees staff (note: I've been to BP in several ballparks and this was the first time I've ever been asked to leave the field level before it was over), Mike, Luisa and I decide to check out the various exclusive sections of Yankee Stadium our tickets grant us access to. This includes the amazingly sterile Mohegan Sun Sports bar in center field, the slightly less sterile Audi Club in left field and the delightful Delta 360 Lounge, which is directly attached to our seats and has free peanuts, non-alcoholic drinks and salt with some popcorn thrown in. We relax in our outdoor seats overlooking the field.

7:20 p.m. ET -- After getting to our seats in time for the 7:08 first pitch, Pablo Sandoval hits a line drive foul ball that is directly at me in my row 13 seat in section 221b. When I say directly at me I mean a frozen rope right at my solar plexus. Armed with my mitt from batting practice, I slowly get up to catch what will be my fifth ever baseball at an MLB game only to have the schmo in the row in front of me reach up and knock the ball away from my mitt as it's coming in. I will continue to think about this near miss on a foul ball for the rest of the game.

7:40 p.m. ET -- Duffman arrives. I'm glad that despite his exhausting trip to the stadium, he will still get to see seven innings of the game.

7:45 p.m. ET -- After ordering a Carl's cheesesteak to be delivered to my seat, the delivery woman proves way too comfortable making physical contact with her customers, as she takes my mitt off my lap and wedges it between my right leg and the side of my seat before laying a napkin on my lap and placing my cheesesteak on my lap. Much of this is followed by discomfortingly looming over me in what I assume is an attempt to elicit a tip.

8:40 p.m. ET -- The Red Sox score two runs on a single by Daniel Nava in the top of the 6th inning to take a 3-0 lead. The Yankees would score two runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning.

9:50 p.m. ET -- As the game continues apace and nears a conclusion, we discuss what we want to do after the game, which might include getting food or drinks for Duffman, who has not yet eaten dinner. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, Chase Headley lines a 2-1 pitch into the right field bleachers to tie the game at 3-3. Luisa is deflated. Carlos Beltran grounds out to first base moments later, at which point I gleefully yell, "Free baseball!" without acknowledging that as I was given these tickets, all of the baseball was actually free.

10:10 p.m. ET -- Outfielder Shane Victorino enters the game as a pinch runner in the top of the 10th inning, prompting me to take note of how, in 2007 in Cleveland, he hit the only foul ball I ever caught during a game.

10:45 p.m. ET -- As the Red Sox and Yankees remain tied and largely uninteresting in the 10th and 11th innings, Duffman and I have the following exchange:

Duffman: "They're not actually going to play until, like, 2 a.m. are they?"
Me: "I mean, they'll play as long as it takes to finish the game."
Duffman: "Hmm."
Me: "But, I mean, the game won't last until 2 a.m."

11:15 p.m ET -- Victorino comes up to bat with two outs, prompting me to ask him out loud if he remembers hitting a foul ball to me in 2007 in Cleveland and asking if he can do it again. The crowd has dwindled at this point to be so small that I assumed he might hear me. He pops out to end the inning.

11:19 p.m. ET -- As the Red Sox warm up for the bottom of the 12th inning, a sudden power surge hits the stadium, knocking out some of the lighting over the field. While the difference appears insignificant to us in the stands, it is deemed dramatic enough that the umpires decide to pull players off the field for safety reasons until the lighting is fixed. In the meantime, the remaining fans in the stadium start holding up their smartphones in a futile attempt to create enough light to resume the game. The delay lasts 16 minutes.

11:35 p.m. ET -- The Red Sox decide to toy with all of our emotions by actually putting a runner in scoring position in the top of the 13th. Alas, Xander Bogaerts is stranded at second base. The Yankees do just as good a job of ending the game in the bottom half of the inning. Upon noticing that almost no one is still sitting in our section because the night is wearing on, we move to the front row.

12:08 a.m. ET -- For the first time in my life, I experience a 14th-inning stretch.

12:15 a.m. ET -- The game reaches the 15th inning, making it officially the longest I have ever attended in 25 years of going to baseball games. Victorino leads off the inning and I again plead with him to recall hitting a foul ball to me in 2007 in Cleveland and ask him to do it again. He lines out. With offensive ineptitude aplenty, the long night's journey into day shows no sign of ending. As we start to get more and more delirious two important discoveries are made. Duffman finds that the Delta 360 Suite still sells draft beer after the seventh inning. Mike and I also notice a half-eaten bag of peanuts was left at the seats we had moved down to by its previous occupants. Desperately craving sustenance, we debate the pros and cons of eating the peanuts.

12:16 a.m. ET -- We eat the peanuts.

12:24 a.m. ET -- As the delirium continues to ensue, Luisa and I begin to apply her husband's surname to various phrases, such as "What a huge duff-up that was," or "What's the latest up-duff?" Eventually this evolves into a re-lyricized hit 1990s pop song called "Duff up your life."

12:35 a.m. ET -- With one out in the top of the 16th inning, David Ortiz hits a solo home run to right field, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead, giving Luisa her first cause to stand up and cheer in more than two hours and giving the rest of us a palpable sense of relief that the game, at long last, might soon be over.

12:45 a.m. ET -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira leads off the bottom of the 16th inning with a solo home run of his own. Many Yankee fans cheer. Some of them just collapse in disbelief that somehow the game might continue.

1:00 a.m. ET -- I text my father to tell him he and my stepmother, whom had given me the tickets, would probably not have stayed this long. My father then asks me if the game is still going, at which point I inform him it is the top of the 17th and he responds, "omg." He then tells me he has been cooking kugel and that the kitchen is almost clean, prompting me to ask him why he is cooking kugel at 1 a.m. He does not give me an answer to this until the next morning.

1:05 a.m. ET -- Victorino leads off the top of the 17th. Again I ask him if he recalls hitting a foul ball to me in Cleveland in 2007 and ask him to do it again. He flies out to left.

1:07 a.m. ET -- Catcher Ryan Hanigan comes to bat for the Red Sox in the top of the 17th inning, prompting the scoreboard to flash "Entered game in 15th inning" as his fact for the night. At the same time, one crazed fan starts yelling at the ump for his inconsistent strike zone with the bizarre demand that said ump "clean out your ears!" This is not the last time the fan demands the ump clean out his ears to improve his vision.

1:18 a.m. ET -- As the bottom of the 17th begins, Luisa notes that she has spent more waking hours inside Yankee Stadium than out of it since she last went to sleep.

1:28 a.m. ET -- Teixeira grounds into a fielder's choice to end the 17th, meaning the Yankees somehow turned the lineup over in two innings while scoring just one run. It also means there will be an 18th inning, guaranteeing that we will have sat through two regulation length baseball games.

1:35 a.m. ET -- Pablo Sandoval singles to score Dustin Pedroia in the top of the 18th inning, however a base-running blunder by Hanley Ramirez costs the Red Sox a very valuable potential insurance run.

1:48 a.m. ET -- With one out in the bottom of the 18th inning, Carlos Beltran doubles to left field, scoring John Ryan Murphy to tie the game once again at 5-5. Luisa collapses into her chair despondently, while Mike, despite being a Yankees fan, puts his hands on his head and begins to yell, "What is this?! What are we watching! This is purgatory, Dave! We're in purgatory!"

1:58a.m. ET -- "Hey, Victorino! Remember when you hit a foul ball to me in Cleveland in 2007? You were with the Phillies at the time! Can you do it again? Thanks!" It is Victorino's fourth at-bat and third time leading off an inning. Victorino entered the game in the 10th inning. He pops out to Didi Gregorius, who may or may not be a Game of Thrones character. He also may be the namesake of each of Luisa and Duffman's future children.

2:00 a.m. ET -- The game enters the 19th inning. It's 2 a.m. They're still playing baseball.

2:03 a.m. ET -- Hanigan comes up to bat again, this time with the scoreboard reading, "0-for-1 Groundout in the 17th inning." Luisa comments, "That's a lifetime of achievement right there." Hanigan walks moving Bogaerts into scoring position at second base.

2:05 a.m. ET -- After a passed ball has allowed Hanigan and Bogaerts to move up to second and third base, respectively, Mookie Betts hits a sacrifice fly to center field. Bogaerts scores to give Boston a 6-5 lead, its third different lead taken in the 16th inning or later.

2:10 a.m. ET -- Jacoby Ellsbury singles to lead off the bottom of the 19th, prompting all of us to fear the worst and wonder what we deserved to experience a game this zany. I secretly hope the Yankees will tie it so the game extends to a 20th inning, tying the longest game in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

2:13 a.m. ET -- With one out and Ellsbury at first, Garret Jones hits a ground ball to Bogaerts, starting a 6-4-3 double play that, at long last, brings the marathon to an end. There is much spontaneous relief and hugging. While Mike is disappointed, Luisa and Duffman are overjoyed and each of us is relieved to have reached the last out in the wee hours of the morning. I ask a teenage kid a few rows behind us to take a picture of us in front of the scoreboard. The young man in the Yankees jersey congratulates Luisa and Duffman on the Sox' victory and is remarkably magnanimous, as if there is a sense of community among all the fans who stuck it out to the end.

3:00 a.m. ET -- Mike and I sit through an incredibly ill-timed 20-minute delay on the 4 train at 125th Street due to a sick passenger.

3:20 a.m. ET -- I arrive home and collapse on my bed. I have to be at work eight hours later.

While this wasn't the longest game ever played in Major League Baseball or all of professional baseball history, it certainly felt like it at times, and at six hours and 49 mintues, which doesn't include the 16-minute power surge delay, it was the longest game ever played between the Yankees and Red Sox in terms of time. These are two teams that have played each other more than 2,000 times over a span of 114 years, and they aren't exactly known for doing it quickly. This was a game in which Bogaerts, who scored the winning running and turned the game-ending double play had four hits, with none of them coming in the first nine innings. It was a game in which the Red Sox won despite going more than four hours between runs. It was a game in which the Yankees bullpen threw an absurd 238 pitches. It was a game in which starter Nathan Eovaldi made his Yankees debut and yet no one will remember because the game lasted 13.2 innings after he was pulled. It was a game in which the Red Sox left an obscene 20 men on base. It was a game in which Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright threw 78 pitches and blew two save opportunities despite not entering the game until the 15th inning.

It's a game that started when Mark Teixeira was 34 and ended when he was 35.

This game was a whole kind of insanity that none of us was anticipating when we entered the ballpark that night and that none of us ever expect to experience again. I can't say it was all fun, though if we're being honest, most of it was, but the delirium and loss of touch with reality we endured was something to behold. Mike, Luisa, Duffman and I will all remember and tell our children where we were that night, and how truly insane it was to sit in Yankee Stadium for seven hours to watch the fourth game of the season.

As we left the stadium, Luisa and Duffman parted ways with Mike and I to go to their apartment on the west side. You could see in their faces an unusual combination of elation, exhaustion and pure confusion. In the case of Duffman, those were likey exacerbated by the fact that he still hadn't eaten dinner, something I hoped was rectified when they got home. They headed toward the D train and again offered their thanks for the tickets, though the beer they bought me five hours earlier was honestly thanks enough. I looked at Duffman and told him I was sorry he didn't get to the game in time for first pitch due to a travel snafu, but I hoped he still felt like it was worth his while to make it to the stadium.

"Yeah, don't worry" he said. "I don't feel like I missed out on any baseball."

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