By Glen Sparks
New York Mets starter Jerry Koosman fired the first pitch to St. Louis Cardinals lead-off batter Lou Brock at 8:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1974, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, N.Y.
Seven hours and four minutes later, at 3:15 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 12, Redbird reliever Sonny Siebert struck out the Mets’ Jon Milner to end this 25-inning marathon.
The Cards knocked off the Mets 4-3. Only one National League game has ever lasted more innings than this one. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves played to a 1-1 tie over 26 innings on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field. (In the American League, the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers endured a 26-inning battle on May 8-9, 1984, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.)
The Cards-Mets contest ended not on a dramatic home run blasted deep into the New York night, or a ringing double ripped to the wall with a man on second. No, St. Louis speedster Bake McBride, from Fulton, Mo., scored the winning run following a single and two New York errors. Well, it was time to go home, anyway. Though, Cardinals outfielder Reggie Smith warned his teammates: “There’s no way that your wives are going to believe you guys were out playing baseball all night.” Just one more wild night in the Big Apple.
New York sent 103 men to the plate, an all-time record; St. Louis sent 99. The teams compiled 175 at-bats and hit a collective .194. That puny batting average doesn’t tell the entire story, though. The pitchers gave up 19 walks, but they stranded 45 runners, another record.
Each team scored a run in the first inning. The Cardinals’ Joe Torre rapped a single to left-field that brought in Ted Sizemore, who had walked with one out and advanced to second after Koosman also walked Smith. New York tied the game 1-1 following Milner’s RBI double off Cardinals starter Bob Forsch. Cleon Jones, safe on a force out, sprinted home.
Jones, a 32-year-old veteran outfielder, made it 3-1 in the fifth inning. He blasted a two-run homer off Forsch. Ken Reitz added a two-run home run of his own, off Koosman, in the top of the ninth. That round-tripper ended the scoring for the next 15 innings.
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst called on six pitchers to provide 19 innings of outstanding relief. Claude Osteen, a veteran lefty near the end of his career, came into the game with one out in the 14th for St. Louis and hurled 9.1 scoreless innings. Mets manager Yogi Berra called on five relief pitchers. Jerry Cram tossed eight innings of shutout baseball.
Sizemore went 1-for-10 for St. Louis, Brock 1-for-9. Both McBride and Reitz enjoyed 4-for-10 games. Among New York hitters, Milan went 4-for-10 and Jones ended up 3-for-9. Light-hitting shortstop Bud Harrelson put up an 0-for-7 goose egg. No one, though, suffered though this epic clash quite like Wayne Garrett did. The infielder failed get a hit in any of his 10 at-bats (He did draw a first-inning walk, though.)
Each team had its chances. The Mets loaded the bases with two outs in the 23rd, for instance. Jones, though, flied out. Both teams loaded the bases in the 24, but could not score.
Berra sent in Webb to pitch the 25th. The New York native was making his first appearance of ’74 and the ninth of his career. McBride led off the final frame with his base hit. Then, he nearly got thrown out. Webb’s pick-off attempt, though, sailed into right field; McBride rushed to second and kept going.
Milner, the New York first baseman, ran to the ball and threw it home as McBride rounded third. Mets catcher Ron Hodges caught the toss, but dropped it before he could apply a tag. And, an estimated 1,000 or so fans out of the original 13,460 watched and groaned. Siebert set the Mets down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Following the game, the oft-quoted relief pitcher Tug McGraw (who sat this one out in the bullpen) said: “The only thing I regret now is that all the eating places are closed. I’ll have to go home and make myself a baloney sandwich.” New York, it seems, is a city that does indeed sleep.
The Cardinals improved to 75-68 with the victory. They were in second place in the National League East at that point. They’d finished the year in second, at 86-75, 1 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Left-fielder Brock, 35 years old, set a major-league record (since broken) with 118 stolen bases.
The Mets, coming off a National League championship season, fell to 65-75. They were in fourth place in the East and dropped to fifth by season’s end, finishing 71-91. This was the year that two-time Cy Young winner Tom Seaver pitched through an 11-11 (3.20 ERA) off-season at age 29.
Of note, St. Louis and New York played another marathon contest years later, this time at Busch Stadium. The Mets won 3-1 in 18 innings on July 19, 2015. Time of the game: 5 hours, 55 minutes. At least it didn’t go 25.