After 18 grueling innings, the Sioux Falls Canaries collected a historic victory Tuesday, defeating the Winnipeg Goldeyes 4-2 in the longest game (by innings) in American Association history.
Chris Grayson hit a two-run home run in the top of the 18th to break the deadlock after neither team had scored for nine consecutive frames.
"It was so much excitement and joy," Grayson said. "I was just looking for something I could pull, and I hit it out."
The game lasted 5 hours and 33 minutes, the second-longest game in league history by time.
It was unusual even before first pitch. With a shorthanded roster and injuries to infielder Mitch Glasser and catcher Maxx Garrett, the Birds started relief pitcher Bo Hellquist at designated hitter.
Despite the unusual lineup, the Canaries took an early lead in the second inning. Chris Grayson and Mike Hart were on first and second, and attempted a double steal. Goldeyes third baseman Josh Mazzola mis-handled the throw, sending the ball into left field and allowing both runners to score.
The Birds' held a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, when Winnipeg center fielder Reggie Abercrombie made some history of his own. He stole second base, marking his 500th career swiped bag as a professional.
Abercrombie moved to third on the play on a throwing error by Canaries catcher Mike Hart. Abercrombie scored on a wild pitch two pitches later, making it 2-1 Birds.
Canaries starter Kevin Folman went six strong innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits. He walked three and struck out four.
The Goldeyes tied it up in the bottom of the eighth on a Grant Heyman RBI double.
From there, both offenses fell flat. The Canaries managed to put a runner on in each of the 11th through 17th innings, but failed to score.
"It was definitely physically challenging," Grayson said. "At that point it was all about being mentally tough."
Five Birds relievers combined to throw ten shutout innings from the ninth inning onward.
Tyler Wolfe got the win, throwing innings 14 through 17. He allowed no runs on two hits, walking one and striking out three.
David Bergin hit a leadoff double to start the 18th, bringing up Grayson. Grayson's eighth longball of the year made it 4-2 Birds.
Kyle Schepel came on in the bottom of the inning for the Canaries, working a perfect 18th to end the game.
The Birds and Goldeyes meet again on Wednesday at 7 p.m., no doubt with shorthanded pitching staffs. The Canaries' next homestand starts on Friday vs. the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks at 7 p.m. The game is Buffalo Wild Wings Night at the Birdcage, and newly elected Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken will throw out the first pitch. Birds fans can get tickets at the Sioux Falls Stadium box office or by calling 336-6060.