The day John Pomorski pitched 20 innings
Texte de Bill Young, publié en 2006 sur le site de SABR-Québec
Text by Bill Young, originally published in 2006 on the SABR-Quebec website
The day John Pomorski pitched 20 innings
By the time John Pomorski dragged his aching forty-two year–old body back to the mound for the twentieth time that afternoon, there was nothing but the barest hint of a setting sun still hanging above the horizon. Twenty innings. Never, in all his years of baseball, had Pomorski ever experienced anything like it.
It was September 7, 1947, and John Pomorski, manager and pitcher for St-Maurice de Thetford Mines in the Eastern Townships Independent Intermediate League, was locked in what had become an ultra-marathon baseball game against Les Forestiers Catholiques de Drummondville (Drummondville Catholic Foresters – so named because they were sponsored by the Drummondville Chapter of the Order of Foresters.)
Pomorski’s mound opponent was René Latour, who had stepped in to relieve a tiring Leandre Couture, Drummondville’s premier pitcher, in the eighth inning, and had remained in the game.
For nineteen innings the two sides had battled, and still they were tied - at three runs apiece. Pomorski was throwing only fastballs, now. It did not matter that he could barely pick up his catcher's signs in the fading light of early evening; the hitters couldn’t see the ball leaving his hand his hand anyway. All he needed was a target.
John Pomorski is a legend of sorts in Quebec baseball circles. Brooklyn-born, he was a tall, lean right-handed pitcher who had come to Quebec in 1930 as a member of the Montreal Royals. Except for the briefest of stays with the American League Chicago White Sox in 1934; he spent much of that decade in the International League, most of it with the Royals. His best year in Montreal was 1931, when he was 17-9, with an ERA of 3.33.
Pomorski continued to make this province his home even after he could no longer play at the higher levels. In 1941 he went 15-10 with Trois-Rivières in the Canada-American League, and following the war had a stint in the Provincial League. Pomorski remained a baseball presence in Quebec well into the 1950s. He died in Brampton, Ontario, in 1977.
The capacity crowd that filled the Thetford Mines ballpark had come expecting to see their favourites make quick work of the boys from Drummondville. But from the moment that Pomorski threw his first fastball to open the game, what they got instead was a pitchers' duel of epic proportions.
In the four-plus hours since the umpires had first called, “Au jeu!” at 2:30 pm, the game had offered everything - great pitching, clutch hitting, sound defensive work, and devilish good fortune. There had been more action, more ecstasy, more disappointment than ever seemed possible. And still they were playing!
This was the third in a best of five semi-final series between the teams. Thetford took the first two games by convincing scores, 11-5 and 12-4. One more win would put them in line to confront Plesisville for the league title.
Pomorski was sharp from the start, striking out several batters early and inducing others to hit into the easy out. Nevertheless, Léandre Couture matched him pitch for pitch, fanning fewer but consistently keeping the ball away from the Miners’ big bats.
Drummondville drew first blood, in the fourth inning, Shortstop St-Germain slashed a double into left field, and after taking third on a throwing error, scored on Léandre Couture’s single.
The score remained at 1-0 through seven innings, with both pitchers continuing to bear down, giving the hitters little good to swing at. Until the bottom of the eighth - when things took a dramatic shift.
Léandre Couture, who had allowed no runs and only two hits up to now, suddenly ran out of gas, and before René Latour could come on in relief to put out the fire, the Miners rallied, racking up two quick runs to move ahead, 2-1.
The Thetford faithful were overjoyed. Three more outs and victory was theirs. “Bring on Plessisville,” they cried.
Alas, it would not be that simple. The Foresters ("Our lads of the forests" to Drummondville’s LA PAROLE weekly), still had one more turn at bat, and they took full advantage.
Even as victory celebrations began to break out in the stands, Elisé Couture found the sweet spot on a Pomorski fastball and hammered it deep to centre for a long triple. Atchez Morissette quickly followed with a bloop single beyond the reach of the shortstop to bring him home, and before anyone fully realized what had happened, the game was tied.
Latour held the Miners scoreless in the bottom of the ninth, and with the tenth inning beckoning, this day's long journey into the night was about to begin in earnest.
After nine innings: Drummondville 2; Thetford Mines 2
Both teams had their chances in the early stages of extra innings, but neither could bring a runner across the plate.
Finally, in the fifteenth, it happened. First, ‘Doc’ Duplain, the Foresters’ catcher, and then second baseman Allard, singled cleanly off Pomorski, and when Thetford backstop Vandal could not handle a René Latour pop-up, Duplain scampered home with the go-ahead run.
But even this was not sufficient! After quickly setting down the first two batters and sending the paying customers scurrying to the exits, Latour hung a curve to Paquette who drove the ball down the line for what looked to be a sure double.
However, just as the outfielder was about to corral it and toss it to the infield, the bounding ball struck a rock and ricocheted into a drainage ditch. In the time it took to dig it out, Paquette rounded the bases and crossed home plate with the tying run.
Immediately, dejection gave way to pandemonium, and with hope renewed, the fans now turned on their heels and scrambled back into the stands for the start of inning sixteen.
After fifteen innings: Drummondville 3; Thetford Mines 3
But there would be no more scoring. Through the next five innings, in the creeping darkness of the day, fatigue set in and the two pitchers just took over.
And now to start the twentieth, as he stood drained but unbowed on the mound, John Pomorski well knew that unless somebody got very lucky, no one would be crossing home plate again this day.
With deliberate precision, he sailed through his half of the frame, as did his counterpart, Latour, both hurling fastballs into the inky blackness.
When the home plate umpire could no longer clearly see the outfield, he knew that play would have to be halted. And so, at the end of the twentieth inning, with arms upraised to signal his decision, he reluctantly moved out toward the pitcher’s mound and called it a day.
Final score: Drummondville 3; Thetford Mines 3.
Les Forestiers Catholiques 000 100 001 000 001 000 00 – 3 12 4
St-Maurice de Thetford Mines 000 000 020 000 001 000 00 – 3 12 3
Couture, Latour (8) and Duplain; Pomorski and Vandal.
Twenty innings of baseball and nothing resolved. Except that those present had been witness to one of the greatest games ever played in the Eastern Townships.
As it turned out, echoes of this match were to resonate long after the last player left the field. By its inconclusive nature, the game soon gave rise to a series of misadventures – a story for another day perhaps - that ultimately had both Thetford Mines and Drummondville claiming the league title. Within the month, both went on to play for a version of the Provincial Championship. Each lost.
As for the match itself, it remains today one of the longest games by innings ever played in Canada. It is certainly the longest game ever to end in a draw, the longest game ever for which no winner could be declared.
And then there was John Pomorski, valiant beyond measure. In twenty innings, from start to finish, he had kept the opposition at bay, surrendering only three runs and twelve hits, and establishing a standard for endurance on the mound that will never be matched.
Note: John Pomorski was player-manager of the 1938 Drummondville Tigres.