On Independence Day 1985 the Braves hosted the Mets at Fulton County Stadium in what beforehand promised to be a summer evening of family fun followed by a 4th of July fireworks show. By the end of the game at 4 am the next morning it had become an exercise in endurance for the players and a late night party for the few hearty souls who made it through to the bitter end.
Then, not to be denied their planned pyrotechnic extravaganza, stadium officials decided to send up the fireworks anyway. Legend has it that the city police and emergency lines lit up with calls from panicked citizens when the fire crackers began to pop that morning.
The game itself was of little note in the scheme of things that year, just a routine match-up between two middling teams that had no impact on any pennant race. Like thousands of other similar contests over the years the game would be played and then be consigned to the musty stacks of baseball history. Right? But that is what sets baseball apart from the other major sports– there is no clock– strange things have been known to happen in the wee hours, long after the end of regulation.
The contest got off to a damp start. It had rained all afternoon and the stadium was soaked. The field was adversely affected so the start time was pushed back. Then there was another rain delay a couple of innings in. Even without the craziness that ensued that night the game would likely have run later than usual. So the field conditions were less than optimal all night. There was enough standing water in the outfield to seriously affect the pace of balls hit there and the outfielders who chased after them. At least one run can be directly attributed to the field conditions– Atlanta’s Claudell Washington slipped while pursuing an outfield hit– allowing at least one Met run. In a game that eventually went 19 innings that meant something.
The two teams sloshed around in the mud for seven forgettable innings. The Mets lead 7-4.
The home team Braves caught fire in the bottom of the eighth. After loading the bases, Met reliever Jesse Orosco walked shortstop Rafael Ramirez to drive in a run. Immediately afterward, Dale Murphy doubled home three more runs to give Atlanta a sudden 8-7 lead. The few fans still there cheered in anticipation of quick ninth, a win for the home team, and on to the fireworks. This was the eighth inning. Little did they suspect…
With Bruce Sutter relieving for the home team, the game was in the bag, or so they thought. Sutter, the future Hall of Famer, was coming off an epic season where he tied the existing MLB record with 45 saves. But he was off on this night. The Mets were all over him, with three successive singles, they tied game, 8-8. It was time to settle in for the long haul.
After three scoreless innings the Mets broke on top in the top of the13th inning. Howard Johnson went yard with a man on first to put the Mets up 10-8. Statistically the Braves were not exactly an offensive juggernaut that season, so two runs in the bottom of the 13th was going to be a tough challenge. Rafi Ramirez led of the inning with a single. But Met reliever Tom Gorman struck out the next two hitters and things looked bleak for the Braves. Terry Harper was their last hope. Harper had been struggling at the plate late in his career, he hit .157 the year before. He was an unlikely hero. To the surprise of the Mets, harper reached down and rocketed a ball off the left field foul pole to tie the game, 10-10. Play on…
And so it went. On into the night for several more innings. Since the NL had no curfew, the game set the record as the latest contest in MLB history. But it was just getting interesting…
In the 17th inning tensions began to rise. Mets manager Davey Johnson and star Darryl Strawberry lost their cool and got ejected for arguing balls and strikes. When asked about it later, umpire Terry Tata responded with this legendary quote: “At three o’clock in the morning, there are no bad calls.”
In the 18th the Mets caught a break when Atlanta reliever Rick Camp threw a routine double play ball into the outfield. The Mets scored the go ahead run and they headed to the bottom of the frame. Atlanta would bat the bottom of their order.
It was nearing 3:30am and everyone was exhausted. The first two Braves hitters went quietly. The Braves were down to their last out and they didn’t have any pinch hitters left on the bench so they would have to hang their hopes on the pitcher, Rick Camp. At that point it is likely that most players on both teams were ready for the ordeal to end. Not quite.
And so, up to the plate he came. Camp had been around, he was a journeyman pitcher who had seen his share of baseball, but he was not known for his hitting. In fact, as a reliever, he rarely ever hit. This was his eighth plate appearance on the year, and he hadn’t had a hit all season. As he faced Mets pitcher Tom Gormon on what was now July 5, 1985, his lifetime batting average was .060.
Gorman quickly got two quick strikes on Camp. And then one of those moments happened. The few fans left in the stands—who had stayed through all the rain and sloppy play—along with the TBS viewing audience would not believe what happened next. In the wink of an eye the game became a classic.
When Gorman threw his third pitch, Camp stepped into the ball and let loose a sweet swing and hit the sweet spot; the ball jumped off the bat and accelerated high into the early morning sky. Like something out of the Natural, much to the disgust of the Mets, the ball carried over the fence and into the bullpen for a game-tying home run. A lasting image from that game is of the Met outfielder falling to his knees, grabbing his head in dismay. The handful of remaining fans went nuts. They were certainly rewarded for their fortitude on this night. Amazingly that would turn out to be Rick camp’s only career home run. Play ball. 11-11.
The euphoria would not last. Camp had lost his stuff and there was no one left behind him. It was his game to lose. Three singles, a double, and two intentional walks later, the Mets had a 16-11 advantage, apparently clinching the victory for the New Yorkers.
It should have been an easy 1-2-3 inning. The Mets had turned it over to star pitcher Ron Darling to close out the game. Two of the first three batters made routine outs. But the inning stayed alive when first baseman Keith Hernandez, normally a great fielder, made an error to allow a runner to reach and keep hope alive for the Braves. Then with two outs, Atlanta scratched out two straight walks and a single, scoring two runs. 16-13.
Almost unbelievably the tying run came to the plate. Again it would be Rick Camp, the newly confident slugger. Camp fell behind quickly. He was looking at a 1-2 count. It had come down to two pitchers facing off. Of course Darling had the advantage. The Met ace wound and threw his pitch. Camp offered at it. Strike three! Game over. Lights out.
Not so fast. The game had gone off but the the fireworks still had not, and like all games scheduled for the Fourth of July, this one advertised a fireworks display. So as morning light began creeping into night sky the Braves began firing the tubes. It didn’t go over so well with the neighbors, to say the least.
Note: Keith Hernandez hit for the cycle in the game.
Check out the box score at Retrosheet.org.