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CROWE'S NEST

After 20 innings each, they settled for a tie

June 23, 2008|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

As a baseball coach for 30 years, Jeff Gingrich is sometimes cursed on the mound by pitchers unhappy to be pulled from games.

He doesn't like it much and won't tolerate it -- "The next day, they're running," he says, laughing -- but the former minor leaguer understands the passion.

Thirty-five years ago, during his sophomore season at San Jose State, Gingrich and Long Beach State junior Ruben Patron virtually refused to leave the mound at Long Beach State, each of them establishing a major-college record that might never be broken by pitching all 20 innings in a darkness-shortened 1-1 tie.

"That was a first," Gingrich says, "and probably a last."

Says Patron, who was a walk-on and junior college transfer from Stockton making his first Division I start: "It was just kind of a freak game."

Gingrich and Patron, who have lived most of their adult lives about 90 minutes apart in Northern California, estimate that they probably combined for about 700 pitches, counting pregame and in-game warmups.

Gingrich, the Spartans' ace, gave up 10 hits, walked three and struck out 21. Patron gave up 13 hits, walked one and struck out 12, officially making 197 pitches, according to a teammate charting his effort. Long Beach State scored its only run in the third inning. San Jose State pulled even in the fifth.

The hard-throwing Gingrich, a 10th-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1975, says he was so sore the next day he couldn't raise his arm to comb his hair.

"I tried it, said 'Forget it' and just kind of ran my left hand through it," says Gingrich, a 54-year-old father of two, high school science teacher and assistant coach at San Jose City College. "I think I went to bed at about 8 o'clock. A teenager on a Friday night going to bed at 8? I was beat to death."

The 6-foot, 160-pound Patron, who relied more on guile than did the 6-0, 190-pound Gingrich, says his arm wasn't any sorer than usual.

"I made my next start," he says.

As did Gingrich.

Patron, 56, says he never experienced any ill effects from his marathon pitching performance, continuing to pitch in adult leagues into his 40s and playing basketball into his 50s. Married with no children, he too pursued a career in education and is an assistant superintendent in Merced.

Gingrich, meanwhile, says he left pro ball after five years in the minors because he was tired of waiting for a shot at the majors -- not because of a worn-out arm. As a coach, he says, he threw batting practice to his players twice a week for 25 years before needing shoulder surgery about four years ago.

Fully recovered, he's back throwing batting practice.

Speaking recently to Patron, Gingrich says he was surprised to learn that the former 49er had not made a major-college start before March 30, 1973.

"I thought he was their ace," Gingrich says. "I mean, he was handling us, keeping us off balance. He had a bunch of ground balls for double plays. I thought I was pitching against their best guy."

Says Patron, who relied mostly on curveballs: "I was just plugging along. The innings just went along kind of fast and before you knew it, it was the 13th inning. After about the 15th, people started asking, 'Are you all right?' Obviously, the catcher thought I was still throwing strikes and keeping the ball low. I felt good. . . .

"People ask me to this day, 'What kind of coach would let you throw that many innings?' But it just kind of evolved, it just kind of happened."

John Gonsalves, Long Beach State's coach at the time, says the game didn't last more than about three hours, despite all the innings.

"It was a quick game," the retired coach says. "I went out four or five times just to talk to Ruben and every time I went out there he says, 'Coach, I'm still strong.' And he was strong. He was strong right to the end."

Adds Gonsalves: "The mentality of the players in those days was, 'Give me the ball and let me finish.' In our day, you finished the game."

Amen, says former San Jose State coach Gene Menges.

"I'd have had to get an army to pull Jeff Gingrich off that field," Menges says. "The kid's got a heart the size of an elephant, and he wasn't going to leave that game with the score like it was and the other guy still pitching."

He showed that in the 16th, when Menges tried to pull him.

"That's when I said, 'Not if their guy's still going,' " Gingrich says, laughing as he recounts sprinting out to the mound for the bottom half of the inning and all but daring Menges to come get him. "I wanted to win the game. I wasn't worried about my body, my arm. I just wanted to win. It didn't matter what inning it was."

Patron says that he too lost himself in the moment.

"I was just happy that I finally got a start and was pitching," he says. "It didn't really sink in until later that I'd pitched 20 innings."

Thirty-five years on, both pitchers cherish the memory.

"They didn't fold, we didn't fold," Gingrich says. "Maybe I didn't know it at the time, but I know it now: It was very special."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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