|The longest day in baseball history started with a Al Jackson fastball!|
By Harry Cummins
Rolled neatly in blue plastic, the news landed on my doorstep last week with a dispirited thud.
The New York Times reported that Al Jackson, a left-handed pitcher for the original New York Mets, had passed away at the age of 83.
It was on a Sunday morning, fifty-five years earlier, that another newspaper arrived at my Manhattan hotel room, announcing the pitching match-ups for the big doubleheader out at Shea that afternoon with the visiting San Francisco Giants. The 1964 World's Fair was in full-swing in neighboring Flushing Meadows and the Today's Pitchers line in the paper read Juan Marichal vs Al Jackson in Game 1. It was a promising day to be in the greatest city in the world.
I was quickly off to the nearest subway station and a chance to see the great Juan Marichal and Willie Mays, and to enjoy a Sunday in the 'Park with 57,037 other fans of the hapless, but lovable, last place Mets. It was the largest crowd in the major leagues that year in America's newest MLB stadium. Little did any of us know what was in store on that historic afternoon, forever stamping this day (and night) as one of the most memorable in baseball history.
When the little lefty Al Jackson toed the hill for the Mets at 1:08 pm and fired a fastball at Giants leadoff hitter Harvey Kuenn to open the twin bill, who knew that this would be the day baseball actually ran out of "peanuts and cracker jacks" and some of us wondered if "we would ever get back."
Jackson pitched well in that first game but was no match for Marichal, who ran his early season record to 8-1 and the Giants took the contest 5-3 behind 3 hits from Orlando Cepeda. Marichal's only mistake came on a 3 run home run by Jim Hickman, accounting for all of the Mets runs. Time of game: 2 hours 27 minutes.
Game 2 of the doubleheader began at 4:02 that afternoon.
Here, in brief statements, is an attempt to describe a nearly ineffable second game.
** The Giants were up 6-3 in the last of the 7th inning, when Joe Christopher's 3 run drive to deep centerfield barely eluded the glove of a leaping Willie Mays at the wall and tied the game 6-6. In what was almost a miraculous catch high over the fence by Mays.. was instead ...a tie ball game.
** The game remained deadlocked going into extra innings. Lots of extra innings!
** When the historians remember Game 2, this is what they may or may not recall:
** Willie Mays played 3 innings at shortstop, the 11th,12th, and 13th innings. He then went back to CF where he belongs, and where he was to play for another 10 innings!! This was the season Mays would go on to hit 47 home runs.
** Mets shortstop Roy McMillan grabbed an extra-innings smash off the bat of Tom Haller near second base and swipe tagged Orlando Cepeda out, in what Giants manager Alvin Dark called "one of the greatest plays I have ever seen." A few innings later, McMillan nearly pulled off an unassisted triple play that sent the Mets faithful into a frenzy. The rare triple killing occurred in the 15th inning, one inning after manager Dark was ejected from the game. Long ago, this had stopped being an ordinary game, or day!
** What a 25 year-old Gaylord Perry of the Giants did in this game is now legendary. The future Hall of Fame pitcher entered the contest in the 13th inning and proceeded to pitch TEN scoreless innings in relief, striking out 9 and walking just one.
**Duke Snider and Willie McCovey of the Giants, both made pinch hitting appearances in Game 2.
** Finally, at 11:25 P.M. with the concession stands now long closed, emptied of all food, and less than 15,000 fans remaining in the once packed stadium, the end came.
** Galen Cisco of the Mets was pitching his 9th inning of shutout relief when Jimmy Davenport led off the Giants top half of the 23rd with a triple. Back-up catcher Del Crandall was then brought into the game as a pinch hitter for Gaylord Perry. Cisco threw a ball low and away ("the perfect pitch" said catcher Chris Cannizzaro later) but Crandall reached out and lined it to right for a ground rule double. Then Jesus Alou, who went 4 for 10 in the game, beat out an infield roller for the insurance run.
** A scoreless bottom of the 23rd and it was over. It was almost Monday when the Giants completed the Sunday twin bill sweep with a marathon 8-6 win. Mets catcher Cannizzaro caught all 23 innings. Tom Haller caught 22 innings for the Giants.
** Mays, Cepeda and Alou played all 32 innings of the doubleheader. Christopher, McMillan and Ed Kranepool did the same for the Mets.
** The 23 inning second game took 7 hours and 23 minutes, in time, the longest major league baseball game ever played. The doubleheader was the longest ever (32 innings) and took a record 9 hours and 50 minutes to complete. Mets manager Casey Stengel, never precise at math, said afterwards "the fans got 3 games for the price of one." They got more than that.
......and Al Jackson, the man who started the longest day's journey into night with his pitch to Harvey Kuenn eons earlier, well, he also entered Game 2 as a pinch runner in a second inning rally that plated the Mets first run. "He's artistic," Stengal once said of his athletic pitcher. "I know this because he was fielding all the bunted balls."
Al Jackson finished his major league career with a 67-99 won-lost record. He once tossed all 15 innings in a 3-1 loss to the Phillies one August afternoon in 1962. He threw 215 pitches that day.
But I will always remember Al Jackson for that first pitch he threw on the last day in May,1964...Memorial Day.
It was indeed a day, and a man, to preserve in remembrance!