THE Clearwater Threshers trudged through a 23-inning ironman contest with host Jupiter on May 24, only to come up short, 2-1. The box score on that epic has since been examined and dissected, but we thought it would be interesting to check in with someone who participated in the near-tripleheader.
"Some of us talked about it afterward," Threshers outfielder Brian Gump said. "We were all saying that was the longest game any of us had ever played in. It was easily the longest one I've ever played."
About the 14th or 15th inning, Gump said teammates were pulling out all the tricks: rally hats, wearing sunglasses (it was a night game), a fake school bus to drive in runs.
"At that point, the mood was almost humorous," he said. "You reach a point where it's, 'OK, let's get this game over with.' "
Gump's third-inning RBI double stood up as the Threshers' only run in the 5-hour, 27-minute contest. "It was kind of odd," said Gump, who was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 10th. "I kept forgetting as the game went along, 'Oh, yeah, that was my RBI.' "
Joe Savery came in to pitch in the 19th inning. That was actually no big surprise, Gump noted. Savery's move from the mound to position player has been well-chronicled, but the big lefthander has been working regular bullpen sessions . . . you know, just in case.
Savery went two innings, allowed two hits and struck out one.
"The thing is, the other team thinks it's getting a break when they see our DH coming in to pitch," Gump said. "But for [Savery], it was business as usual. They had no idea he's a guy who knows what he's doing out there."
Gump said there was not much buzz about sending centerfielder Jiwan James in to pitch. James was drafted as a pitcher in 2007, but an arm injury forced him to abandon that path to the majors after his first pro season.
The mood afterward? A mix of "whew, it's finally over" and "after all that time and effort, it hurts, especially since we had so many opportunities," Gump said.
"The thing is, the pain wears off pretty quickly because the next game comes up on you so soon," Gump said.
One other thing: Gump himself has a little experience pitching. He recorded a one-two-three inning for Lakewood in 2009 against Delmarva, and was targeted as a pitcher when he entered college. He was "kind of bummed out" that he was ineligible to pitch against Jupiter.
"You have to realize that most guys in pro ball have pitched at some point," he said. "It's not all that surprising that [a position player] would know what to do."
A guy quietly making noise these days is Lehigh Valley righthander Brian Gordon.
Another three innings and Gordon (3-0, 1.01) would qualify for the International League's ERA lead. He has allowed four earned runs in 35 innings this season (nine appearances, six starts) and has been by far the Triple A IronPigs best starter this season.
The back story. Gordon will be 33 in August. But Gordon hadn't pitched a single inning of pro ball until 2007. He had been an outfielder who started in the Diamondbacks' system, and reached the Triple A level with the D-backs, Angels and Astros. And he put up pretty good offensive numbers, just never good enough. After 10 years in the minors, he asked the Round Rock Express - Houston's top affiliate - if he could show what he had as a pitcher. One thing led to another and the great Nolan Ryan, part-owner of the Express, became his personal tutor. In '08, he hooked on with the Texas organization and wound up getting into three games in relief for the Rangers.
This is his second season at Lehigh Valley. He was primarily a middle reliever last season but he's worked his way into the IronPigs' rotation and it would appear he will remain there until he starts to give up some runs.
Lakewood righty Garett Claypool might be the best 1-2 pitcher in professional baseball this year. The UCLA product has been the victim of sparse run support, but has been one of the BlueClaws' most effective starters. His 2.00 ERA and 66 strikeouts are good for second in the South Atlantic League.
Couldn't end this item without mentioning who ranks first in ERA. That would be teammate David Buchanan (7-2), who leads the league with a 1.97 ERA and is tops in wins. He also goes deep into most of his starts: He's gone at least six innings in six of his last eight. Thus, his 64 innings are tied for the league lead.
Remember lefty Les Walrond? He pitched in six games for the Phillies' 2008 World Championship club. The Phillies signed him over the weekend and assigned him to Reading. After '08, he went off to Japan, spent a season with the Yokohama Bay Stars and moved on to South Korea last year with the Doosan Bears. He was toiling for the Lancaster Barnstormers in the independent Atlantic League when the Phillies signed him. He's 35 now and didn't get off to a particularly good start in his Reading debut. In Sunday's loss to Erie, he allowed two runs in 1 innings.