By Aaron Cheris
“That was a miserable day.”
“That was horrible.”
“It wasn’t very fun.”
Those are just a couple descriptions of the longest game in Sky Sox history from the people who lived it.
The game was truly one for the ages. In five hours and 29 minutes, the Sky Sox defeated the Bees 2-1. The game will be remembered for it’s length, and it’s relative lack of offense.
The game started at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday, May 14 with an attendance of 3,681. By the time the game ended close to midnight, maybe a dozen or so fans were left.
For the Sky Sox, the day started off with an early morning flight from New Orleans to Denver, then a bus ride back to Security Service Field.
“That was just a long day right there,” said Sky Sox outfielder Eric Young Jr.
For Sky Sox home clubhouse manger Cole Filosa, the day started out like any other, rubbing baseballs that would be used in that night’s game. Filosa said for each game, about 10 dozen balls are used with an extra three dozen ready as extras. Eventually, he would need those and more.
For the Sky Sox, Jorge Lopez started the night with three scoreless innings before the Bees scratched a run across in the fourth.
Andy Wilkins evened the score in the sixth for the Sky Sox with a two-out RBI, and that would prove to be all the offense for a long time.
“We thought eventually it would end, but it just didn’t seem to ever end,” Wilkins said.
Lopez had his best Triple-A start for the Sky Sox in that game, going six innings while allowing just the one run on four hits. But his start would be an afterthought by the time this one was over.
Austin Ross was the first Sky Sox reliever out of the bullpen, and he made sure the game didn’t end on his watch. In three innings of relief work, he struck out seven Bees and sent the game to extra innings.
“I applaud our bullpen,” reliever Tim Dillard said. “Lopez set the tone as far as pitchers. When Ross set the tone for the bullpen, the rest of us were just trying to keep up.
The second the game reached extra innings, everyone in both dugouts tried to end it with one swing, and failed every time.
“What happens in those games is the hitters all start trying to hit home runs and trying to end it with one swing, and they get out of their game,” Sweet said. “That’s what we did. That’s how games get prolonged like that.”
In the 1oth, closer Damien Magnifico worked around a pair of baserunners to keep the game tied, impressing his teammates in the process.
Once the game reached the 11th, Filosa realized the game was going to need some more baseballs.
“Every time I knew we were going to the top of an inning, we had to check the baseball supply,” Filosa said. “From the 11th inning on, we were rubbing baseballs until the end.”
Meanwhile, on the field, players struggled to stay warm and ready in the cold weather in front of an ever-dwindling crowd.
“My body was just tired from the long day in general,” Young Jr. said. “I just started bouncing and jumping between pitches.”
Once the extra innings started, they came and went rapidly.
The Sky Sox turned to Brent Suter for long relief in the 11th, and he kept the bullpen’s strong work going.
In the 11th, Suter set the Bees down 1-2-3. In the bottom half, Bees reliever Lucas Luetge struck out the side. Wilkins was one of the Sky Sox to bat in the 11th, and at that point things started to get frustrating.
“I’ve been a part of extra inning games where you keep scoring and they keep tying it,” Wilkins said. “That just wasn’t the case. It wasn’t fun.”
The 12th was more of the same. Suter held the Bees scoreless, with help from Manny Pina, who gunned down Quintin Berry trying to steal. The Bees turned to Deolis Guerra, and again the Sky Sox were shut down.
Both teams put runners on base in the 13th, but they were left aboard as Suter and Guerra again traded zeroes.
With two outs in the 14th, Kyle Kubitza tripled to give the Bees a shot at the lead. Suter worked past it by getting Rafael Ortega to fly out to center. After the rarely seen 14th inning stretch, the Sky Sox couldn’t muster any offense.
In the 15th, the Sky Sox turned to Dillard out of the bullpen for more long relief. Dillards task was simple, keep the zeroes coming.
“By the time I got out there, my focus was I have to keep going for what these guys had already established,” Dillard said.
Dillard did so in the 15th, setting down the Bees quickly.
In the 16th, the Bees put together their biggest threat of extra innings. A couple singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs for Todd Cunningham. Dillard struck him out looking to keep the Bees off the board for the 12th straight inning. By that point, both the attendance and temperature had dropped, but Dillard wouldn’t let that affect him.
“You can’t take a day off,” Dillard said. “Your mind is going to want to just give in a little bit. But I can’t take a day off. I can’t take a pitch off.”
Sweet echoed his reliever’s sentiment.
“Not a little hard, it’s very hard (to stay focused),” he said.
With two outs in the bottom of the 16th, Wilkins nearly ended the game with a double off the base of the wall in right-center. But even getting on base was a little frustrating.
“I hit it, and I didn’t think it was gone. It wasn’t high enough,” he said. ”It was nice to hit a double, but it would have been nicer had it gone out and ended the game innings earlier.”
The 17th came and went with little drama.
In the 18th, Dillard dropped a foul pop up for an error, but worked around it to give the Sky Sox a chance to win what had become a doubleheader.
By that point, the Sky Sox had used four relievers, Ross, Magnifico, Suter, and Dillard. Salt Lake had used five. Their sixth would be the most unlikely person to end up on the mound for the Bees.
Quintin Berry, who started the game in center field, headed to the mound for the Bees in the 18th.
“At that point, you knew what was happening,” Wilkins said.
“They finally just cried uncle, shut it down, and brought in a position player,” Sweet said.
Berry’s pitching was unconventional to say the least. He topped off in the mid-40s, a speed more often seen during batting practice than a game.
“It was kind of funny to watch him throw. He was just lobbing it in there,” Wilkins said.
Keon Broxton led off the inning by walking on pitches that weren’t close to the zone. With Nate Orf at the plate, Broxton stole second and third with relative ease. Orf then walked easily himself, and then advanced to second on defensive indifference.
After Orlando Arcia grounded out, Wilkins stepped to the plate with runners on second and third with a chance to end it.
“I was the only lefty he faced,” Wilkins recalled. “I could have just caught the ball. It was coming right at me.”
After taking the first few pitches away from the plate, Wilkins crushed a rare strike deep into left center to score Broxton and finally end the marathon affair with a 2-1 Sky Sox win.
“The fact that it was over,” Wilkins said. “It was the best thing ever.”
The celebration on the field may have been subdued, but the win was a big one for the Sky Sox. They went on to beat the Bees the next day to sweep a rain-shortened two game series.
Now that it was over, the team finally had some time to reflect on the longest game in Sky Sox history.
“That’s the longest I’ve ever had,” Sweet said when asked if this game was the longest in his career. He said he had a few 15-16 inning games, but this was the longest game he has been a part of.
“Yeah, by far,” said Wilkins when asked the same question.
“The longest game before this was probably 16 innings. With 18, you’ve played a doubleheader back to back,” Young Jr. said.
Filosa said they went through nearly 200 baseballs in the game, the longest he’s ever been a part of.
“That’s the most baseballs I’ve ever rubbed in my life in one day. We went through 16 dozen,” he recalled.
18 innings are you kidding me. Helluva job by the bullpen 👏🏼👏🏼 only bc I forgot who started. Back at it in less than 12hrs 😴💤💤
— David Goforth (@DavidGoforth7) May 15, 2016
FINAL Sky Sox 2 Bees 1 in 18 innings!
Andy Wilkins wins it with a 1B to end the longest home gm in Sky Sox history! pic.twitter.com/QbPhQfmfUj
— Sky Sox Baseball (@skysox) May 15, 2016
Had the game continued, Sweet had a plan, and it involved position players on the mound as well.
“I was one, maybe two innings at the most away,” Sweet said of how close he was to putting a position player on the mound. “I’d already decided what I was going to do.”
Sweet said Jake Elmore would have probably been the first position player to pitch, with Wilkins likely second in line.
“I would have 100 percent taken the mound,” Wilkins said. “I think I was number two in line.”
“It wouldn’t have been me,” Young Jr. said. “We were close to that situation though.”
Ultimately, through the struggles and the length, the Sky Sox picked up the win in a night nobody involved will ever forget.
But it was just one game, and the Sky Sox hope the bond they formed through this game will help them as the grueling Triple-A schedule rolls on.