|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
In the 17th inning, home plate umpire Terry Tata ejected Met star Darryl Strawberry and manager Davey Johnson for arguing a called third strike. When asked about it after the game, Tata responded with the words later engraved at the Tomb of the Unknown Umpire: "At three o'clock in the morning, there are no bad calls."
Next inning, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. The Mets capitalized on Brave reliever Rick Camp's throwing a would-be double play ball into the outfield, and scored the go-ahead run for an 11-10 lead.
Atlanta had the bottom of their order due up. The hitters looked as weary as they must have felt. In a handful of pitches, the first two batters each feebly grounded out. At 3:30 a.m, the Braves were down to their last man; not only was it the pitcher's slot in the order, but they had no more position players left to pinch hit.
Thus Rick Camp strode to the plate, representing Atlanta's last and least hope. Even for a pitcher, he was never much of a hitter in his decade-long career. A few years earlier he'd gone 1-for-41 on the season. Now a reliever, he rarely even hit. This would be his eighth plate appearance on the year, and he hadn't had a hit all season. As he faced Tom Gormon at 3:30 a.m. on what was now July 5, 1985, his lifetime batting average was .060.
Gorman, now in his sixth inning of work, saw no need to mess around with Camp. He quickly got two quick strikes on the hapless "hitter." Brave fans still in attendance—and one truly had to be a fan to stay in attendance this late through all that rain and time—could at least console themselves that it had been a hard fought battle, even if Atlanta was doomed before the better team.
Ah, but here is where the game became something for the ages. Part of the appeal of sports is that you never know what will happen next. What has just happened and what ought to happen merely serve as indicators for what could and should happen, not what will. The next moment was so ridiculous, that it defied all logic and a damn good chunk of all illogic. An ape on a typewriter would have a better chance typing out the complete works of William Shakespeare by sheer happenstance than a repetition of this at-bat.
When Gorman threw his third pitch, Camp went for broke on the 0-2, two-out offering and took a mighty swing. Crack! He made contact, and the ball floated out past the infield, into the outfield, beyond the wall and to the stunned horror of the Mets, landed in the bullpen for a game-tying home run. The Met outfielder in pursuit was so shocked he fell to his knees and grabbed his head with his hands. The fans were ecstatic, as well they should be, for if any fans deserved to see something great, it was the small band still in the stadium. Suffice it to say, it was not just Camp's biggest career home run, but it was his only one. The game went on, tied 11-11.
You know the Braves were in trouble when Camp left the dugout to pitch the 19th inning. Fresh from his first and last homer, he had an unstoppably huge grin on his face. Upshot: he was not in the best frame of mind to pitch. In the space of three singles, a double, and two intentional walks, the Mets had a 16-11 lead, putting the game away.
Or was it out of reach? As difficult as it might be to top a five-run lead in the 19th inning, that would be nothing compared to what happened in Atlanta's previous turn at the bat. The Mets weren't leaving anything to chance, putting in star starter Ron Darling to pitch.
By all rights, it should've been an easy 1-2-3 inning. Two of the first three batters made simple outs. The inning stayed alive because Keith Hernandez, normally a superlative fielder, made an error to put a man on. With two outs, Atlanta went into its surreal clutch mode: two straight walks loaded the bases, and a single scored two runs. 16-13.
Not only that, but incredibly the tying run came to the plate. Again. Surely enough—you could not script it any better—the batter was the very last man on planet Earth the Mets would want to see represent the tying run with two outs in this Twilight Zone of a game. That's right, up there stood the god himself: the man, the myth, the legend, Rick Camp, only now he stood tall with a whopping .065 career batting average. Though the rain had long since stopped, I like to think a dramatic thunderclap occurred when he stood in the batter's box and faced Darling.
Just like last time, Camp fell behind quickly, and he stared down the barrel of a 1-2 count. At 3:55 a.m., Camp was in a perfect position to certify his position as the all-time grand master of the fourth hour of the morning, game-tying homer.
Darling threw his pitch and Camp swung. Somehow, someway, the ball miraculously sneaked past the uber-fearsome batter. Strike three. Game over. Camp, the most disappointed hitter since Mudville cut Casey, slammed down his bat on the plate in frustration. One can only assume in his previous 168 at-bats he had never been nearly so upset by any of the 83 earlier times he'd fanned.
The fans weren't disappointed. How could they be after witnessing a game like that? Even the players in the Brave dugout stood and applauded as the game ended.
However, many others would soon be very upset. You see, like all games scheduled for the Fourth of July, this one advertised a fireworks display. And sure, even though the sky was beginning to lighten, the Braves began exploding their picturesque bombs promptly at 4:01 a.m. The noise woke up many in the neighborhood, causing many frightened souls to call the police, claiming Libya was bombing Atlanta!