O’Neill’s long homer kicks off baseball’s longest game
“O’Neill hit a thigh-high fastball from Arthur Rhodes so far to right that even those positioned in the flag court didn’t bother to move.”
Box score: April 30, 1996
Paul O’Neill’s long first-inning home run on April 30, 1996 – the eighth ball to land on Eutaw Street during game action – was obscured by the length of the record-setting contest in which it was hit.
O’Neill’s home run off Arthur Rhodes traveled 431 feet.
“O’Neill hit a thigh-high fastball from Arthur Rhodes so far to right that even those positioned in the flag court didn’t bother to move,” wrote Buster Olney. “The ball cleared Boog’s Barbecue and bounced on Eutaw Street, a 431-foot homer, worth a couple of runs.”
The game between the Yankees and Orioles lasted four-hours and twenty one minutes — the longest nine-inning contest in major league history.
Said Orioles Manager Davey Johnson: “This one seemed really long.”
The Orioles had fallen three minutes short of the record for longest game just two weeks earlier in a 26-7 loss to the Rangers. On this night, the Orioles and Yankees eclipsed the previous mark – set by the Dodgers and Giants on Oct. 2, 1962 – by three minutes.
“We were close in Texas,” Brady Anderson joked afterward. “I knew we could do it.”
Rhodes tossed the game’s first pitch at 7:36, thereby commencing an offensive onslaught that ended at 11:57 p.m. with the Yankees on top 13-10.
The O’s led 9-4 after two innings, driving New York starter Andy Pettitte from the game before he could record the first out of the second inning.
However, the Yankees rallied with five runs in the fifth to tie the game at nine. New York’s five-run comeback was its largest since 1993 when the team rallied from a 7-2 deficit to defeat the Indians 14-8.
The first six innings alone took three hours and featured seven different pitchers.
Who could blame fans for peeking at the out-of-town scoreboard where the incoming results were equally outrageous?
Toronto defeated Milwaukee 9-8.
Seattle blanked Texas 8-0.
Boston scored 13 against Detroit.
And the Twins tallied 16 runs against the Royals.
Meanwhile, no winning team in the National League scored less than seven runs.
Power was now king in baseball; journalists and players alike wondered if it was making a jester of the game.
Olney, writing for The Sun:
“Runs are scoring at a record pace, and all the parameters and traditions of the game of baseball are changing. Pitchers are to hitters what Ed McMahon was to Johnny Carson, the straight men providing the means for the laughter. Batting coaches can now be called offensive coordinators, pitching coaches are defensive coordinators. This is like the NBA in the late ’70s: The first three quarters are irrelevant, and there’s no defense. Ultimately, after the two sides trade shots, the game is decided in the late innings.”
John Giannone, writing for The Daily News:
“In a season where pitchers have become an endangered species and hitters swing with all the recklessness of a Sunday softball team, the Yankees and Orioles last night did nothing to halt this trend.”
Pitchers were particularly wary of the trend and reached for an appropriate comparison.
Said Scott Kamieniecki, who stopped the bleeding in relief of Pettitte with four innings of two-hit ball:
“You score 10 runs in the American League and you might get a win. This is not baseball, it’s softball. It used to be hitters would get one good pitch per at bat. Now they’re waiting on two, three or four pitches.”
Steve Howe: “It’s more like football.”
Jimmy Key: “It’s entertainment, I guess.”
David Cone: “It’s out of control.”
Mike Mussina, who would leave Baltimore for New York following the 2000 season, summed it up thusly: “Smaller strike zone, smaller ballparks, bad pitching, bigger hitters, loaded baseballs, corked bats and higher-altitude cities . . . does that about cover it?”
Steroids were not yet a part of the conversation.
In the end, a game that featured 28 hits, four home runs, and 22 RBI was defined by a near miss.
After the Yankees surged ahead with a three-run seventh inning, Brady Anderson came within several feet of a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the frame. Left fielder Gerald Williams caught the ball on the warning track, leading Anderson to send his helmet airborne in frustration.
Two batters earlier B.J. Surhoff crossed the plate on a Gregg Zaun ground out. The O’s would not score again.
With the victory, the Yankees took a half-game lead on the Orioles in the A.L. East and sat alone atop the division for the first time.
O’Neill’s bronze bomb was the third of seven home runs to reach Eutaw Street in 1996, the most in any one season until 2008 when eight baseballs landed on the famed walkway.
“Any day now, President Clinton will declare Eutaw Street a disaster area,” Rosenthal joked.