The longest day in Mets history

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
DO NOT RE-USE: Orlando Cepeda bats against Mets in 1964
DO NOT RE-USE: Orlando Cepeda bats against Mets in 1964

The longest day in Mets history “took a week out of me,” says Ed Kranepool. Still, he wishes it had lasted just a few more minutes.

“That way, we would’ve played a game that started in May and ended in June,” Kranepool says, laughing.

It was May 31, 1964, and the Mets hosted Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium for what turned out to be anything but a typical Sunday doubleheader. The opener started at 1:05 p.m., but the nightcap lasted 23 innings and didn’t end until well after 11 p.m.

By the time the two teams were finished playing, they had logged 32 innings and played for nine hours and 52 minutes. In the second game, the Mets pulled off a triple play, Mays played shortstop for the second and final time of his dazzling career and a til-then-obscure Giants pitcher named Gaylord Perry emerged into relevance -- and spitball infamy -- en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“A lot of things happened that day, in that long game,” says Kranepool. “It created controversy, fun. Things that people remember. It was crazy.

“It was a long day.”

The doubleheader, which the Giants swept, remains the longest by time in MLB history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And today’s seven-inning twinbills and newfangled extra-inning rules mean that mark may never be broken. Game two, which lasted seven hours, 23 minutes, is the longest extra-inning game by time in National League history. It is one of five games in Mets history to go at least 20 innings and the third-longest in terms of innings played.

For Kranepool, who is now 76, it was the back end of a grueling pair of days. The night before, he had played 19 innings in a doubleheader in the minor leagues. He was called up afterward and took an early-morning flight from Buffalo to make it to Shea on time.

Mets manager Casey Stengel told Kranepool he’d play the first game and then asked, “Do you think you can start the second game, go five innings?”

“He knew I got in really early in the morning,” Kranepool says. “I was 19 years old. I’m not going to tell him I’m tired. You want to play. But by the fifth inning of the second game, he had used up some players and said, ‘You could go another four.’

“You know Casey. He could talk you into anything.”

The Giants won the first game, 5-3, as Juan Marichal beat Al Jackson. In between games, Kranepool recalls having a quick meal. “It was a cup of soup,” he says. “It’s not like today, when they have all these chefs in the clubhouse. We had nothing -- crackers and soup. Most of the time, it was chicken noodle.”

No one knew that it would be so long before they ate again. Game two took so long that fans got hungry, too. Concessions stands ran out of hot dogs, recalls Jay Horwitz, the Mets team historian who was at the game as a 19-year-old Giants fan. “In the 20th inning, I got a bag of potato chips,” Horwitz says.

The Giants took a 6-1 lead in the nightcap, but the Mets came back, ultimately tying the score on Joe Christopher’s three-run homer in the seventh inning.

In the 10th, in a flurry of moves, Mays went to short and stayed there for three innings, but did not get any chances. Three innings later, he moved back to center field.

Seeing the great Mays at short looked odd, Kranepool says. “But he had good hands. He could’ve done it,” Kranepool says. “Most outfielders in those days didn’t wear a (protective) cup, so that might’ve been a little strange for him.”

In the 13th inning, Perry came into the game for the Giants. He had a 4.76 ERA at the time and was battling for his pitching life. As he noted in his 1974 book, The Spitter and Me, he was the “11th man on an 11-man pitching staff.” He also wrote that it was the first time he relied on the notorious spitter in a close game.

Perry devoted an entire chapter in the book to game two, also writing, “On May 31, 1964, I became an outlaw in the strictest sense of the word -- a man who lives outside the law, in this case, the law of baseball.

“On May 31, 1964, I started down -- or up, depending on your point of view, I suppose -- a path that would lead me through the mud ball, the emery ball, the K-Y ball, the Vaseline ball and the sweat ball, just to name a few.”

It certainly worked that night. Perry ended up throwing 10 scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and a walk, striking out nine.

Perry pitched until 1983, when he was 44 years old. He won 314 games and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1991. He ended the chapter on this game in his book with a nugget of gamesmanship: “Do I still wet them? I sure know how. But that doesn’t mean I do it -- or even that I ever did it. Maybe I’m just kidding. Maybe I got the Mets out in 1964 on sheer talent.”

Kranepool certainly believes Perry was wetting the ball.

“I think that game made Gaylord Perry’s career,” Kranepool says. “He was a mediocre pitcher who couldn’t get anybody out, throwing a 90 mile-an-hour fastball, straight as an arrow. He put more junk on the ball. The umps were laughing. So much guck and crap on it, dirt was sticking to it. But they didn’t do anything about it. He went from nothing to making the Hall of Fame because of an illegal pitch they let him get away with.”

Who knows what would’ve happened to Perry’s career if Mets shortstop Roy McMillan hadn’t started the second triple play in Mets history in the 14th inning on a liner by Orlando Cepeda.

While the game slogged on, Horwitz’s friend, Charlie Teich, kept asking him, “When are we going to leave?” Said Horwitz: “Charlie, not til the end.”

Finally, in the 23rd, the Giants broke through. Del Crandall, who had caught game one, hit a pinch-hit RBI double off Galen Cisco to knock in the tie-breaking run. Jesus Alou followed with an RBI single for an 8-6 lead. Bob Hendley retired the Mets 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning.

“If Del Crandall hadn’t gotten that hit, we might still be playing,” Kranepool says.

Horwitz turned to Teich and said: “‘Now, Charlie, we can go home.’ I don’t think he wound up going to any more games with me.”

In the clubhouse, “We were all lying on the floor,” says Kranepool, who was 1-for-4 in the opener and 3-for-10 in the nightcap. “We had no energy whatsoever. I was wiped out.”

The next day, Kranepool says, the Mets were scheduled to play an exhibition game against one of their minor-league clubs.

“Casey called me into his office and said, ‘I’ll give you the day off.’”