You can tell a lot about a person and a team, or organization, when you’re in the middle of a 19-inning baseball game.
We were embroiled in one 40 summers ago when I manned the hot corner for the Saraperos de Saltillo in the Mexican Baseball League. We were playing the Pericos de Puebla, the Puebla Parakeets, in Puebla in their little hatbox of a stadium, Hermanos Serdan.
It was early September and obvious at that point that neither the Saraperos nor the Pericos had the most oblique chance of winning more games than we lost. We were each well-entrenched in the bottom third of the league standings, trying to finish our dismal seasons with a modicum of integrity and dignity.
In other words, it was a game that meant nothing. It didn’t matter in the standings, as I said, and it hardly mattered to anyone’s personal stats. When you play a season of 140+ games, there are bound to be some that matter less than others, and this, to be clear was two of them. I say two, because 19 innings is more than twice as long as one normal game (not that any game is normal.)
In the second inning, after being sent down 1-2-3 in the first, we went up two zip on the strength of a double by our leftfielder, Garibay, and a long homerun, my ninth of the season, by me.
They came back and halved our lead in the fourth and tied us with another run in their half of the sixth.
We were swatting the ball with some authority, while our arms were mowing their men down. We were threatening to score almost every inning, but somehow we kept pulling bonehead plays, like being tossed out trying to steal or being thrown out advancing by a good chuck from the outfield.
In any event, we were knotted at two at the end of the sixth and then, nothing. Neither the Pericos nor the Saraperos put a man across the plate from the seventh inning till the 19th, when we squeezed a run in on a bunt single from Brutus Cesar and a run scoring double by Garibay.
I had my ups next and hit another long ball to left center, like the homerun I hit—almost to the exact same place, only two feet shorter, and it was snagged on the warning track by their centerfielder Jhonnie Spatola, who later played two seasons in the big leagues for the Detroit Tigers.
Like I said, you can tell a lot about your team and your teammates when you’re in the middle of an almost eight-hour ball game and you’re suffering through 16 consecutive scoreless inning.
First we were, as I said, swatting the ball well and we were all sitting on the edge of our bench cheering each other on. But as the evening went on our brains and our bones got tired.
If, say Buentello, our backstop got on and was left stranded by Angel Diablo, our all glove, no bat short stop, we’d get on Diablo’s case. We were stranding men left and right—getting on and unable to bring anyone across with the winning run. We were all getting up in each other’s asses.
“You suck, Diablo.”
“No, you suck, Adame. A fly ball would have brung Bustamante in and we’d be home right now.”
“No, fuck you.”
By the 14th inning, it was already past midnight and we were all bone-tired and at each other’s throats. Things only got worse in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th. Everyone one was ragging everyone else, cursing their very existence and wishing they had taken over for their old man in his butcher shop rather than becoming a ballplayer and playing in front of something like 240 people in Pueblo, Mexico at 2AM.
Finally, in the top of the 19th, Salome Rojas, our cleanup, whose bat had been quiet for the night and was something like 0 for 11 on the evening, got a clean opposite field squib and hustled as much as his limbs could move his 250-lb. frame.
Hector yanked Rojas off first and put in a rook, Canizerro to pinch run, and a good thing. I was up next and whiffed, but Bustamante, a pinch hitter followed me, batting for Miguel Torres, and he ripped one to right that bounced to the wall and brought in Canizerro with the go ahead.
We sent Sanchez out in the bottom of the 19th, usually a starting pitcher, but the only arm we had left. Canizerro, by this time, had been put in at left while Bustamante filled in at first with Garibay off to right to accommodate all our batting and running substitutions.
It was obvious to us that this wasn’t our best defensive line-up, but after 19 innings, we were playing who we had and running on fumes.
Sanchez grooved one that I just missed getting a mitt on and their leadoff was on with an inning opening double. Sanchez gave their next batter an intentional walk, hoping we could get a double play, instead their guy hit a long fly to left that Canizerro lost in the lights and dropped and their guy at second scored on aggressive running and a throw from left that missed the cut-off man.
It was knotted again, 3-3. At least it was tied for a minute. Until a line drive to Bustamante tied him up and that error let in their fourth run, their winning run.
Saraperos 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 3 21 3
Pericos 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 - 4 6 0
We had lost.
19-innings, eight hours. And empty.
The homerun I’d hit to put us ahead back in the second, 1/3 of a day ago meant nothing now.
I walked with Hector to the locker room.
“Homeruns de ayer no significan nada hoy,” he said.
Yesterday’s homeruns mean nothing today.