Of the strange things done beneath the midnight sun, the way the Anchorage Glacier Pilots topped the Peninsula Oilers in Wednesday night's/Thursday morning's baseball game at Mulcahy Stadium ranks right up there with the oddest.
A walk-off strikeout/passed ball ended the 21-inning, 5 1/2-hour game.
The third strike on Pilots batter Nick Backlund turned into the game-winning play when the ball hit the dirt and Oilers catcher Riley Heinzer couldn't glove it. Scoring from third base was Matt Daugherty, who crossed the plate shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday to give the Pilots a 4-3 Alaska Baseball League victory.
"A walk-off dropped third strike," Pilots pitcher Chris Belleque said. "I've never seen that before."
Belleque was one of the few guys in uniform who didn't play in a game that matched the longest in the history of the ABL. Belleque had pitched the night before, when the Pilots needed 12 innings to beat the Chugiak Chinooks 10-9. The same night, the Oilers needed 10 innings to beat the Mat-Su Miners 3-2.
Combined with the 21-inning game, the Pilots played 33 innings and the Oilers 31 in a span of about 30 hours. For the Oilers, those 30 hours included the bus drive from Kenai to Anchorage.
The Pilots had Thursday off, but the Oilers traveled to Palmer for a game against the Mat-Su Miners.
The Pilots used 19 players, including six pitchers. The Oilers used 22 players, including nine pitchers. If there was an MVP of the game, it was Pilots right-hander Luke Bublitz, who pitched 8 1/3 innings of shutout relief.
A crowd of about 25 to 30 stayed till the end and at least a few followed the action on the radio.
"I got five emails during the last inning from people that were listening," Oilers broadcaster Dan Gensel said.
For Pilots broadcaster Steve Scheele, the night marked the second time he was on hand for a 21-inning game. He was at Mulcahy 20 years ago when the Pilots won 5-4 in a 21-inning non-league game against a team from Kamloops, B.C.
The longest league game before this week's epic was an 18-inning game in 2008. The Miners beat the Oilers 2-1 in that one.
Fortuitously enough, the most recent marathon was played on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, which in Anchorage meant 19 hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds of daylight. It was a mostly cloudless night, so the stadium lights weren't needed until the final couple of innings.
"I think that actually helped," said Axel Johnson, an outfielder from Texas Christian who played the first 10 innings for the Pilots. "Usually when a game goes till 1 in the morning or so, it's pitch black, you can see bugs flying everywhere, you can hear crickets. Here, the sun was setting, there was a nice sky and you could see the mountains in the background. That made it easier to stay in the game."
The Pilots led 3-2 going into the ninth inning, but a bases-loaded walk let the Oilers send the game to extra innings.
Both teams had quality scoring chances. In the bottom of the 14th, the Pilots had runners at first and third with one out, but were foiled by a double play. In the top of the 21st, the Oilers had a man on third with one out, prompting a pitching change for the Pilots. Bublitz, who entered in the 13th inning and struck out five while scattering five hits, was replaced by Eric Karch, who got consecutive strikeouts to end the inning and earn the victory.
"The anxiety's what kills you," said Belleque, who played in a 22-inning game with Fresno State last season. "You say, 'It has to happen this inning. Something got to go.' We thought we had it a couple times."
The game was the equivalent of a doubleheader, and then some.
"Or three high school games," Belleque said. "Except no breaks. We were running on fumes."
The night produced a week's worth of stats:
• 140 at-bats, 71 for the Pilots and 69 for the Oilers.
• 34 hits, including 19 by the Pilots.
• Batting-average bonanzas for Anchorage's Johnson (4-5) and Jeff Kremer (3 of 6) and Peninsula's Jeff Yamaguchi (4 of 8), Jordon Hein (3 of 6) and Alex Staehely (3 of 7).
• Average-busting games for a whole bunch of guys, including Anchorage's Jordan Luplow (1-8) and Peninsula's Jake Alvarez (0-8), Josh Miller (1-9) and Trey Richardson (1-8).
• A combined 556 pitches, according to statistics at pointstreak.com. The Oilers threw 290 (106 balls, 184 strikes); the Pilots threw 266 (91 balls, 175 strikes). Bublitz, the ironman of the game, threw 88 pitches, according to Scheele's scorebook.
Although the Pilots came close to running out of pitchers, everyone who took the mound for either team was a real pitcher.
"We were basically at our last arm," Pilots general manager Jon Dyson said. "We would have had to use position players if it had gone any farther."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News