Astro Memories, Part Three: The Longest Night
First, a few things. Lots of you think I hate the Astros. I don't hate the Astros. I hate what Drayton McLane has allowed them to become. I'm also not too fond of Drayton, but that's another blog post. I worked for the Astros from 1988 through the 2001 season, and for many of those years, I was paid to do a job I would do for free while sitting in the best seat in the Dome -- I was almost directly behind home plate and had the entire field spread out before me.
As a native Houstonian and baseball lover, I spent many of my formative years, before working for the team, attending games. I was generally one of those poor souls who sat out in the cheap seats in center field. I saw Cesar Cedeno roam center field. I saw Larry Dierker battle some of the best hitters the game has ever seen. I was mesmerized by J.R. Richard. I attended games when Joe Morgan and Rusty Staub were wearing navy blue caps with orange stars. And a favorite note, I was one of the last people to light up the glorious old scoreboard that Bud Adams had ripped out.
So I've seen lots. But I've also learned lots. And one thing that I've learned is to never make plans for after a baseball game. Because when you make plans for after a baseball game, you're asking for problems. Which leads to my favorite memory of the Houston Astros.
The day was Saturday, June 3, 1989. The Astros were hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Astros were on a winning streak, and at the time, they were still in the fight for the NL West pennant. Tim Leary started for the Dodgers. Bob Knepper for the Astros. The first pitch was at 7:35.
The Dodgers took the quick lead, and they were up 4-1 in the sixth when the Astros scored three times. And that was it for the next 16 innings, until Rafael Ramirez singled over the outstretched glove of Fernando Valenzuela -- having to play first base because Tommy Lasorda mismanaged his bench -- to score Bill Doran from second base for the 5-4 win in the bottom of the 22nd inning, seven hours and 14 minutes later.
I remember many things about the game. Like the crowd at the start being over 30,000, and that ended being about 1,000. I remember that Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully had been in St. Louis that afternoon, doing the NBC Game of the Week, and that he arrived after the game started. He then sat down and did the rest of the game solo while the rest of the Dodger announcers worked the TV broadcast.
I remember that we had three seventh-inning stretches. And that we did another national anthem after midnight. Craig Biggio was catching at the time, and he made a great play at the plate, as did Dodgers' catcher Mike Scioscia. Orel Hersheiser, the Dodgers ace, pitched seven innings in relief -- he was also the eighth of nine Dodger pitchers that night.
Jim Clancy, the man brought when Nolan Ryan left for the Rangers, got the win in relief -- Clancy was the seventh Astros pitcher of the night. Jim Deshaies, who often jokes about what an awful batter he was, pinch-hit for the Astros late in the game. And I remember that the next day, the two teams played at 1:35, and that that game went 13 innings and lasted over four hours.
This I remember more than all. One of my coworkers arrived all dressed up that night. When quizzed about this, his response was that he and his wife were meeting friends for a jazz concert at 11:30, and that he would have plenty of time to make the concert.
Every person in our tight little booth knew as soon as he said this that he would not make the concert. We just had no idea of how long we would be stuck at the game.
Baseball is full of things that you don't do. You don't talk about a no-hitter because then the pitcher will give up a hit. You don't talk about how fast a game is going, because then things will slow down. But no rule is more important than this: never, ever, make plans for after a baseball game. Because nothing will curse a game more than this. Nothing.
I was part of the longest game (in time elapsed) in Astros history. And despite everything else I've seen as an Astros fan, this game is my favorite Astros memory.