Only once had more innings been played in a major-league game (see May 1, 1920), but never had fewer runs been scored in a completed contest. In this the longest shutout in baseball history, the Houston Astros finally crossed the plate in the 24th inning to wrench victory from the New York Mets. Tragically, after the six hours and six minutes of combat, the outcome was decided on an error. At the time, this contest also represented the most innings ever played in a night game (since surpassed).
Houston and New York, both expansion clubs of 1962, had been perennial bottom dwellers during the first six years of their existence. And, in each season except 1966, one of the two had scored the fewest runs in the league with the other not far off the pace. So it's little wonder that if two teams ever threatened a scoreless infinity, it would be the Astros and Mets.
Taking the mound for New York was the previous season's rookie-of-the-year, Tom Seaver. Calling it the best game he'd pitched in his young career, Tom walked no one and allowed just two hits over ten frames. Don Wilson started for Houston, went nine innings, and permitted only five hits and three walks. Following the two starters was a parade of 11 relievers, seven Mets and four Astros. As the innings wore on, pitchers looked more and more like Walter Johnson, and it became apparent that short of a negotiated truce, the only way this contest would end was through a mistake.
There were plenty of baserunners as the two teams combined for 22 hits and 12 walks. But when it counted, no one could deliver the coup de grace as each club squandered multiple scoring opportunities:
With one out in the second, Houston's Hal King doubled to left and was wild-pitched to third. On Bob Aspromonte's grounder to second King tried to score, but the throw beat him to the plate. The 200-pound baserunner crashed into Mets catcher Jerry Grote who emerged from a cloud of dust holding the ball for the putout.
New York's Ed Kranepool led off the seventh with a single and was sacrificed to second by Ed Charles. Grote flied out and Seaver walked, but Al Weis ended the frame by grounding out to first.
In the ninth, the Mets put runners on first and second with two outs, but Seaver tapped back to the pitcher.
After Charles struck out to open the 12th, the Mets loaded the bases when Grote singled (pinch hitter Phil Lintz popped out to second) and Weis and Ken Boswell also singled. But Tommie Agee grounded out, second to first.
Houston also threatened in the 12th. After singling, Ron Davis was sacrificed to second. Jimmy Wynn was intentionally passed, but Rusty Staub fouled out to Grote, and King struck out.
Again in the 13th the Astros put two on with one out. Pinch hitter Ivan Murrell flied to right, and Davis popped out to second.
Charles opened the New York 17th with a double and was sacrificed to third by Grote. Pinch hitter Bud Harrelson then failed to execute a suicide squeeze by fouling off three bunt attempts. Weis ended the threat by grounding out to short.
Davis and Norm Miller fanned to open the Houston 19th. Wynn and Staub then singled, but King flied out to right.
The Mets also threatened in the 19th. Leading off, Cleon Jones singled and was sacrificed to second. After Charles was intentionally passed, both runners pulled a double steal. Jim Ray then retired the next two hitters, Grote and Danny Frisella, on swinging third strikes.
In the 22nd, New York got Grote to second with two outs, but Weis grounded out third to first.
The Astros also threatened in their half of the 22nd. Wynn struck out and Staub walked. King's grounder to short enabled Staub to reach second, but after Aspromonte was intentionally passed, Julio Gotay fanned.
The marathon of impotence finally ended in the last of the 24th. Norm Miller, unsuccessful in seven official at-bats, led off with a single and was balked to second by Les Rohr. After Jimmy Wynn (1 for 8) was intentionally walked, Rusty Staub advanced the runners by grounding out to second. John Bateman, pinch hit for Hal King and was purposely passed, loading the bases. Next, Bob Aspromonte took two balls, fouled one off and then sent a sharp grounder toward Mets shortstop Al Weis. Weis had played brilliantly all night but wasn't quite the man he'd been six hours earlier. Al didn't bend quickly enough for the grounder, and it zipped through his legs into left field enabling Miller to trot home with the game winning tally. It was Houston's first run after 35 consecutive scoreless frames and the first run Mets pitchers had allowed after 38 consecutive scoreless innings.
"I just plain blew it," was all Weis could say of the missed potential double-play ball. Al had been substituting for a sore-armed Bud Harrelson. Aspromonte, the equally exhausted "batting hero," later said: "The bat felt like it weighed eight and a half pounds when I carried it to the plate."* (*John Wilson, "Astros Defeat Mets in 24th," Houston Chronicle, 16 April 1968, Section 4, p. 1, col. 7.)
The frustrating night was shared by all the Mets but especially Ron Swoboda and Tommie Agee. Swoboda went down swinging five times; Agee struck out swinging three times and was called out once. Each went 0 for 10, narrowly avoiding an ignominious addition to the record books. Seven players previously had accumulated an 0 for 11 in extra-inning games.
Swoboda was also involved in some unusual strategy in the 16th inning. Houston's Hector Torres led off with a bunt single. With a sacrifice in order, Mets manager Gil Hodges ordered left fielder Swoboda into the infield. Astros pitcher Jim Ray negated the strategy when he tried to bunt three times and struck out. Swoboda then returned to his outfield position as Ron Davis also struck out and Norm Miller flied out.
Displays of tenacity and stamina could be found both on the field and in the stands. Not only did opposing catchers Grote and King both catch all 24 innings during the six hour marathon, but about 5,000 fans were still present at the 1:37 A.M. conclusion. An hour earlier, as they stood before Houston came to bat, the scoreboard flashed: "21st Inning Stretch."
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From Baseball Records Registry by Joseph J. Dittmar.
Copyright © 1997 by Joseph J. Dittmar. Reprinted with permission.