Happy July 4th everyone!
I am quite certain that my favorite baseball game of all time was a game I didn’t watch live. It happened six years before I was born. Mets, Braves, July 4th, 1985. 30 years ago.
It was the greatest game ever. Let us set the stage.
JULY 4TH, 1985
30 years ago – Ronald Regan had just begun his second term, a gallon of gas was $1.09, Back to the Future premiered, and the top song was George Michael’s Careless Whisper. If you invested $10,000 in Apple in 1985, you would now have $5.1 million.*
*I triple checked, showed my work, carried the one, and can confirm this is accurate.
THE FIRST NINE INNINGS
In baseball, the Braves welcomed the Mets to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to start a four-game, holiday weekend series. It was an ugly day. Rain pushed back the first pitch and made the outfield almost unplayable.
Dwight Gooden started for the Mets. This was in the middle of his epic 1985 season, one of the best ever for a pitcher. He would finish the year with a 24-4 record, a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts, 8 shutouts, a WAR over 12, and the Cy Young. He completed five or more innings in every start … except this one. He leaves the game in the third.
With the Braves up 3-1, the Mets score four in the fourth on RBI hits by Wally Backman, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter.
In the bottom of the 8th, with the Mets leading 7-4 now, the Braves score four runs to take an 8-7 lead. The clock strikes midnight.
Bruce Sutter, the future Hall of Famer, comes in to close the ninth. Three straight singles by Howard Johnson, Danny Heep, and Lenny Dykstra make it an 8-8 game. Blown save. The Braves can’t score in the bottom half, and the game goes to extra innings.
The first nine innings were crazy by normal standards. But not by the standards outlined above, which I’ve set high by saying it’s the greatest baseball game ever. So let us proceed to…
THE THIRTEENTH INNING
After three scoreless frames, Howard Johnson hits a two-run home run in the top of the thirteenth. The Mets are up 10-8. The game seems over. It isn’t.
In the bottom of the thirteenth, the Mets bring in Tom Gorman to close it out. Gorman wasn’t a great pitcher in 1985, but the Mets didn’t have anyone else at this point. He allows a leadoff single, then strikes out the next two guys. With two outs, Terry Harper comes up, and he hits a home run. Tie game. 10-10. We go to the fourteenth.
Crazy? Yawn. We still haven’t gotten there. Let us proceed to…
THE SEVENTEENTH INNING
It’s still notted at 10-10. Rick Camp enters the game to pitch for the Braves. He will play an important role, but we’ll get to that later.
It is now 3am on July 5th.
Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson are ejected for arguing balls and strikes. After the game, home plate umpire Terry Tata* gives an all time quote: There aren’t any bad calls at 3 am.
*Say that 5 times fast.
Alright. Let’s take a deep breath, everyone. Let’s move on to….
THE EIGHTEENTH INNING
It’s now past 3am. The game is still going on. And … and … and THE METS SCORE!
In the bottom of the 18th, our old friend Tom Gorman is still in there, trying to close it out for the Metsies. He gets two groundouts, and up steps Rick Camp, the pitcher. The Braves are out of players, so they’re forced to bat Camp. He’s their last hope.
Camp was a notoriously bad hitter. Coming into that season, he was a career .062 hitter (10-for-162) with 80 strikeouts. He had never hit a home run. I mean, it’s hard to get worse than that.
Camp takes a nice hack at the first pitch and fouls it off. 0-1.
The next pitch is on the outside corner. 0-2.
And then, he hits a home run.
He hits a home run.
RICK CAMP HITS A HOME RUN AND THE GAME IS TIED AND IT IS 3:20 IN THE MORNING AND EVERYTHING IS GREAT AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE.
Thank God it is 2015 and we have video evidence. Put down your phone, take a few minutes off, and watch the video of the at bat, which starts around 1:20:
Here are 9 observations I have:
– If you can’t tell, that’s JOHN STERLING doing the game for the Braves. Yes, he was the Braves announcer before he came over to the Yankees in 1989.
– At the 1:10 mark, the other announcer mentions that they’ve had four rain delays in this game. Ridiculous.
– Look at 1:33! The catcher is visibly waving in the outfield!
– At 1:51: Ernie, if he hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball.
– 2:24. The moment.
– Look at Danny Heep at 2:30. Sheer disbelief.
– The way he says ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IT’ at the 2:34 mark sounds exactly like his call for Scott Brosius’s home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. The fact that I could make this connection is a bit concerning.
– That wild cackle at 2:58 is why I watch baseball.
– 3:46: I mean, if you told me that John Sterling’s gonna run for President and win, that wouldn’t be any more improbable. And I gotta tell you, that’s improbable. Please, make this happen.
OK, guys, let’s review what’s happened here. In an already crazy game, the pitcher Rick Camp steps to the plate at 3:20am in the 18th inning. The catcher waves in the outfield. Camp falls behind 0-2. He hits a home run. Chaos ensues.
Alright, phew, we’re done, right? NO. Take ANOTHER deep breath. The game isn’t over! Let us proceed to…
THE NINETEENTH FRIKKIN INNING
The Mets break out for five runs. Ray Knight hits a double, Danny Heep drives in three with a single, due to an error by the right fielder that ostensibly happened because it’s 3:30 in the morning and they’ve been playing this game for six hours. Wally Backman drives in Heep. 16-11, Mets.
In the bottom of the nineteenth, the Mets bring in starter Ron Darling to close it out. He gets the first out on a ground ball to second. Then, Claudell Washington reaches on an error. Then, he gets out number two on a fly ball.
OK, finally, there’s two outs and the Mets are up by five and this game is just … about … over.
Except … Darling walks the next two batters. And then Terry Harper hits a two-run single to make it 16-13 (Harper is now 5-for-10 in this game). All of a sudden, the tying run is at the plate.
It’s Rick Camp, again.
Could he do it again??!? Could a career .062 somehow find the strength to hit a second game-tying home run in extra innings???
Uh, no, he cannot. He takes a few wild hacks and strikes out. The game is over.
THE GREATEST QUOTE EVER
“I saw things,” Keith Hernandez later said, “that I’ve never seen in my major league career.”
THE CLOCK STRIKES 4
The greatest game of all time is now over, and it is 4am, and we can all go home, right?
No! Since it was the 4th of July, the Braves had promised fireworks after the game. And, well, it is now after the game. A promise is a promise. The show must go on. And so the fans that stayed – and to those fans, I bow to you with great reverence – were treated to a loud, wild, sleep-deprived fireworks display at 4:30 in the morning.
Local residents woke up and panicked, thinking Atlanta was under attack.
“I thought it was the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse,” said a woman who lived near the stadium.
AND THEN THE SUN ROSE
Our old friend Tom Gorman, who pitched six innings in the game, said he saw the sunrise on the bus ride back to the hotel. It was – and still is – the latest ending to a game in baseball history.