This week saw the anniversary of the longest game in Carolina League history. Tuesday, June 12th, marked one year since the Kinston Indians beat the Pelicans in 23 innings. The game bested a 21 inning affair between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Danville 97’s (who would go on to become the Pelicans) in 1998.
There are four current Pelicans players that were involved in that game: Vin DiFazio, Jared Hoying, Santiago Chirino and Zach Osborne. Of course Jason Wood, Brad Holman and Julio Garcia were there too. So in honor of the longest game in CL history, I figured it might be fun to reflect back on the history that was one year ago.
For starters, the mere mention of 23 innings made Chirino roll his head back in groaning pain. Chirino is the only current Pelican that played the entire game.
“For me I don’t want to be in another game like that,” Chirino said.
The second baseman did laugh at the notion that the marathon was partly his fault, however. After all, Chirino did get thrown out trying to score on a Mitch Hilligoss hit in the top of the ninth. The same play tied the game at two, sending it to extras.
On the flip side of Chirino was Hoying, who played only briefly in the game, going 0-1 with one pinch hit at-bat.
“It was horrible,” Hoying said. “I got bleacher butt so bad from sitting there.”
But at least Hoying got in the game at all. By count of the Kinston Free Press, 120 fans were left at Grainger Stadium when the game was over. There’s one story of a couple that came to the game and left to go out to dinner. They then went to church and returned to the park for the final three innings. The dedicated few saw more than 650 pitches.
“It was a Sunday and we’re playing at two so we’re thinking we’re going to get on the road at a decent hour,” Pelicans trainer Jeff Bodenhamer said. “The next thing you know, it keeps carrying on and carrying on. Is this ever gonna end?”
There were a couple, albeit few, times when the game almost did end. For starters when Chirino was thrown out in the ninth trying to score. Then there was Zach Osborne in the 16th, who put the first two Indians runners on before striking out the side. The most tenuous situation for Myrtle Beach came in the 22nd inning, when Chad Bell loaded the bases with nobody out.
“I looked at Brad [Holman] and he looked at me and said “What do you got Woody?,” Pelicans manager Jason Wood said.
Well Woody channeled his inner Joe Maddon and brought a fifth infielder in. Centerfielder Ryan Strausborger played up the middle and sure enough, the Pelicans got out of the inning with a strikeout and doubleplay.
“It was a groundball hit to Leury Garcia’s right,” Woody said. “He turns flips to second and we get the guy at first base for a double play. Momentum had swung there for a second. Then we come in and 1-2-3 we go out.”
On the offensive side things were tough. The K-Tribe struck out 32 times in the game! The Pelicans bats were not nearly as Swiss cheesy, but there were a grand total of 18 half innings in extras alone where there was not a hit recorded between both teams.
“They were so tired they couldn’t get the bat through the strike zone,” Pelicans hitting coach Julio Garcia recounted. “I think guys on both sides were trying to end it with one swing and the harder they swung the softer the ball went.”
But the Pelicans did have an ‘excuse’ to lean back on. Myrtle Beach had lost the DH in the ninth inning. For the rest of the way the Beach’s pitcher’s had to hit. Needless to say they didn’t exactly hit…but they did swing.
“That was funny,” Garcia said, thrown back in his chair with laughter. “We told them to stand in the deepest part of the box in the back and don’t swing at all. They went up there and took some swings, albeit bad one…mostly bad ones.”
“Chad Bell’s up there at the plate with an arm protector,” Bodenhamer said, “because he bats right handed and throws left handed.”
Keeping in mind that the Pelicans are an American League affiliate, pitchers don’t ever focus on hitting. National League affiliates do sometimes take pitcher’s batting practice and begin hitting in games at Double-A. Zach Osborne had the most memorable at-bats.
“I struck out one time and in my other at bat I hit a ground ball and thought it was a foul ball,” Osborne said. “I stood there until the whole dugout was yelling ‘run’.”
Osborne did pitch well though, and after all that is what he’s really there to do. He ate up four scoreless innings, but had noting on Chad Bell who went five scoreless to follow.
“There’s a point in time in a game like that where you have to leave guys out there to get everything out of them that you possibly can,” said Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman. “There’s really no way to prepare for that. The next move would have been a position player and put a pitcher out into a position.”
It never did get to that, with Kinston’s Casey Frawley singling to score a run off Kasey Kiker in the 23rd. The game finally ended…with Pelicans catcher Zach Zaneski behind the plate for the whole thing. By the way, Kinston centerfielder Tyler Holt was ejected in the 17th, a fact that will likely become the subject of a Big Dog Shirt (i.e. If You Can’t Play With the Big Dogs for 23 Innings….).
“It gets to the 15th, 16th inning and it just becomes funny,” Pelicans de facto first baseman Vin DiFazio said looking back. “It became a comedy routine.”