It lasted so long that the Tigers tied an American League record by walking Manny Ramirez four times. No AL team had intentionally walked anyone four times in a game since Yankee great Roger Maris received four free passes from the Los Angeles Angels May 22, 1962.
It went so long that the Red Sox and Tigers used every last position player on their rosters and all but depleted their already overworked bullpens. It got so desperate that the Sox used two relievers - Rod Beck and Rich Garces - who pitched for a fourth straight day and finally rolled out Tim Wakefield, who is scheduled to start tomorrow.
And it even lasted long enough that a crew of bleacher creatures, reflecting the determination of both teams, abandoned their post-midnight chant of “Yankees Suck” and broke into “Hell, no, we won’t go.”
In a marathon that rivaled the longest game at Fenway in 20 years - a 20-inning affair against Seattle Sept. 3 and 4, 1981 - the Sox and Tigers waged a 5-hour 52-minute dogfight until the Big Dog of the moment, Shea Hillenbrand, smacked an 0-and-1 pitch from Dave Borkowski over the Green Monster to lead off the bottom of the 18th inning for a 4-3 victory in the sleepy Fens.
“I was hoping it would go out,” Hillenbrand said, “so we could get the game over with. I get to go home and sleep.”
The last act of the mini-epic unfolded before the last bastion of bedragged souls - fewer than 5,000 - among the 32,814 who had passed through the Fenway turnstiles hours the night before.
It was the longest contest for the Sox since they were defeated, 5-4, in a 19-inning epic against the Mariners in Seattle last Aug. 1. Before it was over, the Sox and Tigers had used 40 players who had 127 at-bats, saw 482 pitches, and gotten 27 hits.
“I don’t have any gas left in the tank,” said Jason Varitek, who caught all 18 innings and caught all 19 in Seattle. “Having lost one of these, it feels a whole lot better to win this one.”
Suddenly, Monday night’s ordeal against the Yankees seemed like a rosy memory.
For the hardy souls who stuck it out in the Fens, the standoff provided a multitude of twists and more scares than either teams cared to bear.
The win went to Wakefield, who escaped a crucial jam when he picked off the potential go-ahead runner, Jose Macias, at second with two out in the top of the 18th.
Wakefield, who generally contains his emotions, bounded off the mound pumping his fists as he had just won a postseason game.
“My emotions were running pretty high,” he said. “Obviously, it showed out there, but it’s pretty nice to win a game like this.”
After the Sox sent their last available position player, Mike Lansing, into the game in the 13th despite a thumb injury, Wakefield said he expected he might be called on to pinch run or pinch hit. He is one of the team’s best hitting pitchers.
But manager Jimy Williams needed him on the mound, having decided to spare only one reliever, Pete Schourek, from the fray.
In one of the game’s craziest turns, the Tigers remarkably ushered the potential winning run to second base with two out in the 14th by intentionally walking Ramirez for the third time in the game. That advanced Carl Everett, who had walked, to second.
Ramirez said he never has been intentionally walked with only a runner on first base. He leads the league with 14 intentional walks.
“I’m happy we won the game,” he said, “and I didn’t have to swing the bat.”
Detroit’s strategy worked in the short run as Borkowski fanned Darren Lewis, sending the game to a 15th inning.
In the 12th, Ramirez came within four feet of ending the game when his two-out drive off Todd Jones caromed high off the Wall, leaving him with a single. And Jones fanned Lewis for the third out.
The Tigers moved the go-ahead run to third base in each of the first three extra innings, twice with the bases loaded. But each time they were denied by Derek Lowe in a gritty, 40-pitch performance that spoke volumes about the strides he has made since his April calamities.
Lowe rescued Rolando Arrojo from a one-out based loaded mess in the 10th. He struck out Macias with two out and Deivi Cruz at third base in the 11th. And with two out and the bases loaded in the 12th, Lowe, who was running almost on empty, got Cruz to ground into a fielder’s choice.
The Sox appeared to have won the game with two out in the 10th when pinch hitter Dante Bichette’s blooper kicked up chalk on the foul line in shallow right field as Jose Offerman raced home from second. But first base umpire John Hirschbeck, whose view appeared to be partially obstructed by Detroit first baseman Ryan Jackson, ruled the ball foul.
The Sox protested to no avail. And Bichette struck out looking two pitches later.
The stalemate began to unfold after the Tigers tied the game, 3-3, with two out and an 0-and-2 count on Macias in the seventh when Sox starter Hideo Nomo threw a wild pitch that allowed Cruz to score from third.
The Sox appeared to have a chance to grab the lead in the eighth when Everett singled with one out, knocking Detroit starter Chris Holt out of the game. But with fireballing reliever Matt Anderson facing Ramirez, Everett stole second.
The steal put Everett in scoring position. But it took the bat out of Ramirez’s hands, as the Tigers intentionally walked the Sox slugger with first base open. Anderson then struck out O’Leary on a 100-mile-an-hour fastball and put the final spike in the Sox opportunity by fanning Varitek.
Anderson, who hit 101 miles an hour in striking out Brian Daubach in the ninth, played a key role in sending the game into extra innings.
But the Tigers also got a boost from Holt, a transplant from the National League who gave up only six hits in 7 1/3 innings in his Fenway debut. The trouble for Holt was that three of the hits were solo home runs, by O’Leary, Ramirez (his 20th), and Daubach.
Nomo, facing his former teammates for the first time since Detroit ownership chose not to pay him the market rate in the offseason, was impressive as well, surrendering only three runs in seven innings.
But there was a long way to go.