If it's Memorial Day weekend, it must be time to pay tribute to the longest game in Giants history.
Twenty-three innings. Seven hours, 23 minutes.
And here's the kicker: It was the second game of a doubleheader.
This was back when big-league teams played doubleheaders, especially on holiday weekends, and not the day/night separate-admission kind. Real doubleheaders. Two games for the price of one. And on this day, fans got nearly four games' worth of baseball for the price of one.
It was olden times, 1964 to be exact, May 31, a Sunday, Giants vs. Mets at Shea Stadium, which today no longer exists but then was brand-spanking new. A sellout crowd of 57,037 packed the place. Well, it was packed for the first game, which started at high noon. Some 10 hours later, when the second game finally ended, there were close to 50,000 ... empty seats, that is.
The Mets were managed by 73-year-old Casey Stengel, and maybe that's where the stories began, of Stengel nodding off during games. Well, give the legendary "Old Perfessor" a break. A septuagenarian who 40 years earlier had played for the Giants under John McGraw having to endure back-to-back games covering 10 hours? Who could blame him for grabbing a little shut-eye?
Besides the length of that second game, it's probably most famous for being Gaylord Perry's breakout performance.
Perry had come up as a rookie with the Giants in 1962, big expectations accompanying his big bonus. By May of '64, though, he had yet to consistently impress. His older brother, Jim, in the American League, was a far more accomplished pitcher at this point. Jim's got the talent, Gaylord's got the money, baseball cynics muttered.
But, mentored by veteran pitcher Bob Shaw, Gaylord tinkered with a new pitch — in the bullpen, never in a game — a wicked sinker that was suspected to be wickedly wet. And on May 31, 1964, he was a desperate pitcher called upon by desperate Giants manager Alvin Dark in the 13th inning of a tie game, the second in what was already a very long day.
Perry went on to pitch 10 shutout innings, striking out nine and getting the win in the Giants' 8-6 victory.
Ten years later, Perry published "Me & The Spitter," with the provocative subtitle "The Candid Confessions of Baseball's Greatest Spitball Artist (Or How I Got Away With It)." In the book, Perry called his 10 innings of shutout relief against the Mets the turning point in his career. That career still had another 10 years to go. He retired with 314 wins and two Cy Young Awards, and in 1991 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Among the game's other highlights:
With the Giants out of infielders, Willie Mays played three innings (10th, 11th, 12th) at shortstop. No balls were hit to him. In the 13th, he moved back to center field, outfielder Cap Peterson became the third baseman and Jim Davenport moved from third to short, which is where he had started the game.
Orlando Cepeda, who broke a 3-3 tie in the first game when he stole home in the sixth inning of the Giants' 5-3 win, hit into a triple play in the 14th inning of the nightcap. Mets shortstop Roy McMillan caught Cepeda's line drive, stepped on second to double up Jesus Alou and threw to Ed Kranepool at first to get Mays.