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2019 SnakePit Awards: Game of the Year: 9/24, The Never-Ending Story

I’m getting tired just THINKING about this one,

Die unendliche Geschichte Photo by Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

Things you could do in six hours and fifty-three minutes

  • Watch the entire Matrix trilogy, with a five-minute bathroom break between each film.
  • Drive from Chase Field to Oxnard, California
  • Sit through the four shortest baseball games of the year, in their entirety.
  • Get a pretty good night’s sleep.

This was the longest game anywhere in the majors during 2019, 34 minutes more than the second-longest, the July 25th match-up between the Orioles and Angels. Diamondbacks pitchers alone threw 321 pitches on the night, the most by any team in the National League for more than six years. Its predecessor? The 18-inning game between the Phillies and D-backs in 2013, where Philadelphia tossed 395 pitches. Which I also recapped. Pardon me, I think my PTSD is kicking in. Arizona became the fourth team in recorded major-league history to throw so many pitches while conceding two or fewer runs [including both in this 2008 game. It took 27 minutes less than the game here, despite being three innings longer]

So many franchise records were set here. Arizona came in to 2019 with the all-time mark for strikeouts in a game being 21, last done back in 2004. That mark was beaten twice this season, first against Tampa on May 8, when 23 Rays took their bats back to the dug out. But that was breezed past here, with the D-backs amassing 25 strikeouts. [And that wasn’t even the most in the majors this season, as the Mets fanned 26 Braves the previous month... and still lost]. Before that day, only two MLB teams had ever used 13 pitchers in a game. But as well as Arizona, San Francisco did so the same night. In total, the D-backs used 30 players, a record which may never be broken with the incoming roster rule changes.

For much of the game, victory seemed unlikely. The D-backs fell behind to the very first hitter of the game, Mike Leake allowing his contractually-obligated home-run to Dexter Fowler. While he pitched well thereafter, Arizona couldn’t buy a hit against Jack Flaherty. He took a no-hitter into the seventh, and having struck out the D-backs in the sixth on 13 pitches, it wasn’t looking good. Eduardo Escobar ended that, leading off the seventh, but going into the last of the ninth, that was still the only Diamondbacks’ hit, and they trailed 1-0, down to their final three outs. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. For with one out, Ildemaro Vargas came off the bench and leveled the score.

That should have been the end of the game. For Christian Walker had just been rung up, on a full-count pitch well outside the strikezone. If home-plate umpire Larry Vanover had done his job, Walker would have walked, Vargas’s shot would have been a walk-off, two-run homer, and we would all have had a nice, early night. But instead, we were just getting started. By the end of the contest in the small hours of the following morning, Vargas would become the first MLB player ever recorded to have a four-hit performance in a game, after missing the opening eight innings. Getting there, though, would require extraordinary stamina from everyone involved.

Fortunately - or not - the game taking place in September meant that expanded rosters were available, and both teams took full advantage as the night rolled on. But they did so in radically different way. Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt used his bench strictly to replace his pitchers: all eight starting position men played all nineteen innings. Torey Lovullo? Not so much. Eduardo Escobar, Nick Ahmed, Josh Rojas and Jarrod Dyson were the only such men for Arizona, as Lovullo opted to play matchups. Neither approach seemed to work particularly well, neither team hitting above the Uecker Line for the game, the Cards and D-backs posting OPS’s of .523 and .590, as pitching dominated.

In the 13th, it looked potentially over, as some guy called Paul Goldschmidt homered off Taylor Clarke, to give the visitors a 2-1 lead. But what does Caleb Joseph say to the god of lazy narratives? Not today. For the second time, a D-backs pinch-hitter came up big, Joseph tying the game with an RBI single, his first MLB run driven in for almost five months, dating back to April 28. Mrs. SnakePit snorted derisively and went off to bed, leaving me and the SnakePit kitties to ourselves, and not for the first time, proving herself to to be the more sensible half of the marriage. For the night turned into morning, and the at-bats increasingly resembled a series of performance art pieces on the theme of “wild flailing”.

Something eventually had to give, and it was very nearly the Diamondbacks. We went into uncharted territory with the nineteenth inning, and Kevin Ginkel became the last man standing among Arizona pitchers. Having thrown 18 pitches the previous night, he wasn’t on a long leash, but got the three outs. Carson Kelly and Nick Ahmed singled to lead things off in the bottom half, but Dyson and Robbie Ray - pinch-hitting for Ginkel! - both struck out. The D-backs were down to their final out, and if the game had gone into the 20th, we would have seen Vargas take the mound, with Ray staying in and playing left-field. Schidt walked Christian Walker intentionally to load the bases, preferring the match-up with Vargas.

The announced crowd was 26,097 but you could probably whack off the first two digits and get some idea of how many were still present for Vargas’s walk-off hit. Indeed, given the expanded rosters, there may have been more people in the dugouts than the stands by that point. I finally got to hit “publish” on the recap at 2:47 am, and headed off to join the gently snoring Mrs. SnakePit - hell, even the kitties had abandoned me by that point. Inevitably, there was a day game the next day: it didn’t go extras, but still took eight minutes short of four hours to complete, the D-backs winning 9-7. Let’s just say, I am now rather more receptive to the idea of starting extra innings with a runner on second-base...