THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Kevin Cullen

Summering with the Sox

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / July 19, 2011

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I need to have my head examined. I stayed up to watch the Red Sox-Rays game that began Sunday night and ended yesterday morning.

The game went 16 innings. It took five hours and 44 minutes. And despite lasting slightly longer than a James Cameron film, there were only eight hits and one run. The district attorney in St. Petersburg has convened a grand jury to determine if this was the most uneventful baseball game ever played.

But it was impossible to turn off. I started watching with a self-imposed 11 p.m. curfew. But it was a quirky game, so, “OK, midnight.’’

Midnight came and went. So did 1 a.m. By this time, I had way too much invested to go to sleep.

“I’m not surprised you stayed up,’’ Dan Barry was saying. “I bet a lot of people stayed up.’’

Barry, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote the book on long baseball games. Actually, the book on the longest baseball game.

Barry’s book, “Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption and Baseball’s Longest Game,’’ recounts the eight-hour marathon played in 1981 between the Red Sox Triple A affiliate in Pawtucket and the Baltimore Orioles farm team, the Rochester Red Wings. That epic began on a Saturday night before being suspended at 4 a.m. on Easter morning. There were 19 fans left in McCoy Stadium when the game was stopped at 2-2 after 32 innings.

“I asked some of the people who stayed: Why?’’ Barry said. “They all had stories of leaving Fenway Park with their dad in the seventh inning when they were kids, to beat the traffic, and that on the drive home, they listened to the radio as the Sox blew a lead and lost. They feel like if they leave, their team will suffer as a consequence. I’m sure there were a lot of people watching the Sox-Rays game thinking the same thing.’’

The 1981 game resumed before a full house on a warm June night and ended after just 18 minutes of play, when the immortal Dave Koza blooped a single over Cal Ripken’s head in the bottom of the 33d to drive in Marty Barrett.

Koza still lives in Rhode Island, but he was in Nebraska over the weekend.

“I was going to watch the game, but I got busy visiting family,’’ he said. “Whenever there’s a game like this, I hear from people.’’

Koza said the key difference between the 1981 epic and the Sunday-Monday game was the weather. It was cold and windy that April night in Pawtucket. The latest marathon unfolded in a hermetically sealed stadium in Florida, an imperfect game played in a perfect 72 degrees.

Joe Morgan was managing Pawtucket in 1981, seven years before he moved to The Show and still driving a snow plow during the offseason.

Dottie Morgan was at home in Walpole preparing Easter dinner after midnight when she realized her husband should be home. She called the stadium and couldn’t believe the game was still going. “Joe could have come home a lot earlier,’’ she said. “He got thrown out in the 22d inning.’’

Joe and Dottie planned to watch Sunday’s game, but couldn’t find it on ESPN.

In Barry’s skilled hands, the tale of a ridiculously long baseball game is poetry as much as prose. It explains why baseball, played without a clock, is the game most often used as metaphor for the mixed-up unpredictable thing called life.

The best part about this latest marathon game is that it mattered, as will every game from here on in. The Red Sox and the Yankees are at it again.

The heck with Casey Anthony, debt ceilings, and President Obama gumming up the Vineyard again. This is what summer in New England is all about.

Sitting at a cubicle, or on the beach, actually reading the box scores.

Measuring the dog days by scarlet hose and pinstripes.

Better than fried clams.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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