Major League Baseball’s opening day, March 31, is approaching fast—but it’s the oft-overlooked minor leagues which witnessed one of the most improbable and historical games of all time. In a game which began on April 18, 1981, the Rochester Red Wings were eventually defeated by the Pawtucket Red Sox… after playing a record-shattering 33 innings. To this day, it remains the longest professional baseball game ever played.
It was a game rife with future superstars, as Hall-Of-Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs played third base for Rochester and Pawtucket, respectively. That night, on the eve of Easter Sunday, 1740 fans were in attendance. At the time, the then-lengthiest game ever had been played between the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves over 26 innings in 1920.
Nobody expected a pair of Minor League franchises to touch such a long-standing record. “When it went past that, I knew we were involved in something special,” said Pawtucket second baseman Marty Barrett of that fateful night.
A few innings earlier, at the bottom of the 21st, Boggs triumphantly scored a tying run after Rochester had pulled ahead to a 2-1 lead, only to be met with mixed reactions in the “PawSox” dugout. “A lot of people were saying ‘Yeah, yeah, we tied it, we tied, it!’” recalls Boggs. “And then they said, ‘Oh no, what did you do? We could have gone home!’”
Everyone eventually did go home at 4:09 AM the next morning, including the remaining 19 fans, by order of the league president himself. Yet, after 32 innings played in the taxing New England cold, the score was still tied, 2-2.
But the game still didn’t have a winner, so it was ultimately decided that the two teams would continue the game when next their schedules allowed it: over two months later on June 23rd. Since the Major Leaguers were on strike, and knowing that they were about to witness history in action, the fans turned out in droves—almost 5800 were in the stands. This time, however, they didn’t stay very long. In a mere 18 minutes, Barrett ran home to finally win the match and end the game.
A ball signed by members of both teams sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame to commemorate the event. A host of new records had been established, including most strikeouts (34 for Rochester) and most at-bats (114 for Pawtucket). An amazing 882 pitches had been thrown. Said Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan, “I wanted 40 innings so nobody could ever tie our beautiful record.” For more information on the legendary game, go here or check out Dan Barry’s excellent book, Bottom of the 33rd.