With the Dodgers down a touchdown and a field goal last night, Drew Butera gave the hundreds remaining at Chavez Ravine something to cheer about.
The backup-catcher-turned-reliever tossed bee-bees at the Miami Marlins – at least one hitting 95 mph – retiring them in order on 11 pitches, thereby giving his team a chance to score 10 in the bottom of the ninth to force extras.
]They didn't. That Los Angeles lost 13-3 in as ugly a game as they're likely to play in 2014 was lost on no one. But Butera did provide five minutes of fun, and is to be credited for the mound work.
While everyone's talking about Butera today, some with the obligatory but unfortunate he's-better-than-Brian-Wilson line of thinking, I'd like to celebrate the performance of another position player called upon to relieve in a pinch: third baseman Jeff Hamilton.
We're coming up on the 25-year anniversary of Hamilton's 1 2/3 inning relief effort on June 3, 1989. The 22-inning game, Dodgers at Astros, started at 7:35 p.m. CST and went seven hours and 14 minutes, ending June 4. Same day, and quite possibly occurring simultaneously as the Tiananmen Square massacre.
I remember distinctly because I attended a wedding that night, and left the radio on so the valet guy could listen to a pitch or two while parking my car. After the festivities, the car was returned to me with the game still on, and I'm thinking, “great, bonus baseball,” or whatever we called it in those days. Once home I watched what was the equivalent of a full game, with Hamilton pitching his heart out trying to keep his team alive.
This wasn't Butera or Skip Schumaker mopping up. This was a Tommy Lasorda managed team fighting to win a gut-wrencher. And truly serious hardball courtesy of their third baseman.
Tommy had already used seven pitchers, including three starters, with Orel Hershiser throwing seven scoreless from innings 15 through 21. Fernando Valenzuela filled in at first; Eddie Murray at third. Kirk Gibson homered, John Shelby was hitless in 10 at bats and Hamilton went 3-9 at the plate.
With the score at 4-4 from the sixth inning on, Hamilton took the ball for the 21st, popping up Alex Trevino and Gerald Young, fanning Billy Hatcher in between. Literally mowed them down on 11 pitches in simply glorious fashion.
Jim Clancy retired the Dodgers in order in the top of the 22nd, and Hamilton went back to work. Bill Doran singled to right and took second on a ground out, pitcher to Fernando. Hamilton walked Terry Puhl intentionally to set up a double play, bearing down to strike out Ken Caminiti swinging. Breathtaking.
Our hero succumbed to the inevitable a moment later when Rafael Ramirez lashed a liner to center. He walked off the field, head bowed in defeat.
There had long been talk of talk about how Hamilton, who never developed into the star the club hoped he might, lacked a certain something. Grit, they'd call it today. But he sure showed fire that night in Texas. Balls, actually.
Butera did a yeoman's job Wednesday. Yes, Jeff Hamilton is in the record books forever as the 5-4 loser, with a game and career mark of 0-1, with a 5.40 ERA, two hits, a walk and two Ks. But he was a total stud on June 4, 1989, pitching in a courageous performance. One to be remembered on a day like today. And celebrated. Here's the box score.