IMPORTANT TO HAVE A GOOD WING MAN
Although the road trip through Buffalo and Syracuse wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, we had a chance to eat at some of our favorite stops. One, in particular, ties in perfectly with the PawSox, especially as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest game in baseball history. Unless you live under a rock, you know it took place at McCoy Stadium in 1981. Although he wasn’t there for the first 32 innings, righthander Steve Grilli had been signed by the Red Wings in the interim, and had the honor of trying to finish the epic battle. “I got released by the Syracuse Chiefs and got a call from the Orioles organization. Doc Edwards was the manager in Rochester. He hadn’t told anyone who’d get to resume the game. I walked into the clubhouse that day and the ball was in my locker. I was shocked. He called me into his office. He said ‘Steve I chose you because you’re a veteran, you’ve got Major league experience behind you. There’s a lot of media out there for this game. I figure I’ll give it to you…you’ve got experience.’ Little did he know that I was just as nervous as any other young pitcher would have been.”
Grilli laughs now about what transpired. “Marty Barrett was the leadoff hitter and I drilled him with the first pitch. It was my undoing. You keep the leadoff man off. That’s your primary goal and there I was, with a man on and nobody out, and in a lot of trouble from then on.” Of course, the PawSox would win the game. and then go on to win the days’ scheduled ballgame, as well. Grilli recalls the rest of the day vividly. “Bobby Ojeda was scheduled to start that day, so Joe Morgan selected him to pitch the conclusion of the 32 inning game. He went out there and because it was so easy and quick for Bobby, Morgan had him take the ball in the second game and he won that, too. He was the recipient of two wins in one day.” Grilli quickly added- “In my favor, I also pitched in that second game. Three innings of shutout ball.”
Steve Grilli looks back on those days fondly. He pitched in the Majors for Detroit and Toronto. He has worked as a coach, scout and broadcaster in baaseball. He also owns the “Change of Pace” at 1802 Grant Boulevard, in Syracuse, a place that serves the best chicken wings I’ve ever had. We’ve been friends for a long time now. So long, that I saw his 34 year old son, Jason, pitch in Little League and now he’s battled back from injuries to try to get back to the Bigs with Lehigh Valley. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Father and son are two of the great guys in or out of the game. As we get older, we look back on our pasts. Sitting in the stands at Alliance Bank Stadium on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Steve reflected. “You know, I wasn’t going to make it to the Hall of Fame on my total number of victories. I was only 296 short of winning three hundred. My cap’s in the Hall of Fame for losing that infamous 33 inning game. I got there, even though it was for a negative, I got there. I’m kind of proud of the fact that now that it’s long behind me, I am proud. I know that it’s a big day in Pawtucket on Monday as they celebrate the thirtieth anniversary. I know there’s been a book written about it. It remains a part of the history of this game and I am happy to be a part of it.”
To celebrate in my own way, I ate a couple of dozen of the worlds’ greatest chicken wings.