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Baseball : Marathon Runs Course After 27 Innings

Talk about long days at the yard.

Lenn Gilmore knew the road to the major leagues could be an arduous journey for minor league ballplayers, but he never anticipated it taking that long to complete a single game.

Gilmore, an outfielder drafted out of Cal State Northridge by the Cleveland Indians in June, took part in one of the longest games in professional baseball history June 24-25 when the Burlington (N.C.) Indians suffered a 3-2 Appalachian League loss to the Bluefield Orioles in a 27-inning contest that took 8 hours, 16 minutes to complete.

Unlike most leagues, the Appalachian League does not impose a curfew. Eighty-four of the 2,200 spectators who began watching the game at 7:15 p.m. were still around when a Bluefield batter blooped a game-winning, run-scoring single to center field at 3:31 a.m. to complete the longest continuous game in professional baseball history.

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The game featured 51 stranded runners and 44 strikeouts.

“I was thinking, ‘Where’s the pizzas?’ because it was such a long game,” said Gilmore, who started in left field but was replaced after he tied the score, 2-2, with a double in the eighth inning. “One of our catchers got called to pinch-hit and he was asleep in the dugout.”

It has not taken Gilmore long to wake up pitchers in the Appalachian League: The 5-foot, 11-inch, 190-pound switch hitter is batting .348 with two runs batted in through nine games.

Last season at Northridge, Gilmore batted .351 with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs to share player-of-the-year honors in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. The Indians expect his power statistics to improve as he becomes more acclimated to wood bats and playing every day.

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“He swung the bat good and showed power during his college season,” said Jeff Scott, the Indians’ director of scouting. “I saw him hit three home runs in one game against USC. He’s going to get a chance to swing the bat and see how far it will take him.”

Tough slider: Call it a case of life-imitating-art-imitating-life.

Last week, a few days after watching Kevin Costner engage in similar behavior in the movie “Bull Durham,” Steve Wapnick and some of his Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Blue Jays teammates did some mud-sliding on the home field after heavy rains forced the cancellation of their Class-A South Atlantic League game.

“We had a great time,” said Wapnick, a pitcher who played at Monroe High, Moorpark College and was drafted last season out of Fresno State. “We had about four inches of puddles to shoot through. What can I say? I’m easily corrupted.”

Wapnick, however, is not very easy to hit.

The 22-year-old right-hander from Sepulveda is the short-relief ace for Myrtle Beach, which won the Southern Division first-half title. He has appeared in 32 games and has compiled a 4-3 record with a 3.00 earned-run average, 5 saves and 45 strikeouts in 36 innings.

Wapnick, a starter in college and last season at St. Catharines in the New York-Penn League, broke spring training as a long reliever but was moved to the closer’s role when he pitched out of some tough jams in the early part of the season.

“Tough situations kept coming up and they started calling me,” Wapnick said. “Baseball is funny. If you’re doing good starting, you want to start. If you’re doing good in short relief, that’s what you want to do.”

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From hoops to scoops: It’s not exactly the pick-and-roll he’s used to executing as a guard for the Indiana University basketball team, but Joe Hillman seems to be adjusting well to digging out throws from infielders and rolling the ball toward the mound at the end of innings as the first baseman for the Medford A’s, Oakland’s affiliate in the Class-A Northwest League.

Hillman, who graduated from Hoover High and was a member of Indiana’s 1987 national championship basketball team, batted .336 with 4 home runs and 33 RBIs last season as an outfielder for the Hoosiers’ baseball team.

“I haven’t played first base before, so it’s a little different,” said Hillman, who was drafted in the 25th round and will return to Indiana in the fall to complete his final year of basketball eligibility. “It’s not as easy as I thought it would be and not as easy as most people think.

“But it’s fun getting to play baseball more than the six weeks I’m used to. It’s exciting to see how I can do.”

Thus far, Hillman is batting .408 with five RBIs and has impressed Manager Lenn Sakata with his skills.

“For as little as he’s played, he has tremendous instincts,” Sakata said. “He’s adjusted well to some of the things we’ve taught him about hitting and first base.

“At this point in time, it’s beneficial for him to play as many positions as possible. There’s a place for someone like him in the major leagues.”

All-Stars: Former Grant High pitcher Rodney Beck and former Crespi and UC Santa Barbara pitcher Steve Connolly, both of whom play for the San Francisco Giants’ affiliate at Clinton, Iowa, have been selected to represent the South Division in the Class-A Midwest League All-Star game July 11.

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Beck, a right-handed starter, is 9-1 with a 2.99 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 96 innings. Connolly, a left-handed reliever, is 3-3 with an 0.87 ERA and 7 saves. He has 33 strikeouts in 33 innings.

Signed, sealed, delivered: Matt Shepherd, a right-handed pitcher from Cal Lutheran, has signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians and has been assigned to Haines City, Fla., the Indians’ Rookie League affiliate in the Gulf Coast League.

Shepherd was 6-3 with a 4.00 earned-run average last season. He had 63 strikeouts in 85 innings.

Musical chairs: The recent scramble for college baseball coaching positions in Southern California is almost over.

Since the season ended, Cal State Long Beach Coach John Gonsalves retired after 19 seasons and was replaced by Dave Snow, who was the head coach at Loyola Marymount; Chris Smith, a former Loyola assistant who was working as a scout for the New York Yankees, replaced Snow at Loyola; Dave Gorrie retired from Pepperdine after 10 years at the school and 29 years in coaching and was replaced by Andy Lopez, who was the head coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills; Terry Craven resigned as coach at Cal State Northridge and was replaced by Illinois assistant Bill Kernen.

The only available job is the one vacated by Lopez at Dominguez Hills. The deadline for applicants is July 5.

Kane and able: Valley College left-hander Joey Kane made the most of his first pitching opportunity for the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska League.

Kane struck out 10 in 7 innings as Fairbanks beat the Hawaii Island Movers, 10-3, last Sunday.

“Most of our pitchers have fastballs above 85 and Joey is a little slower,” Fairbanks pitching coach Jim Benedict said. “He throws changeups behind in the count and was baffling guys.”

Right fielder Rick Allen, who played at Calabasas High, Moorpark College and will be a senior at Loyola, is the Goldpanners’ leading hitter with a .422 batting average and 22 RBIs.

Tournament time: The San Fernando Valley Dodgers will participate in the National Baseball Congress state tournament July 6-10 at Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino.

The 12-team, double-elimination tournament features eight teams from the Golden State League and four at-large teams, including one from Las Vegas. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic berth in the NBC World Series on Aug. 3-15 in Wichita, Kan.

The Dodgers (17-5 overall, 12-0 in league play), who finished 11th in the nation last year, play host to the South Bay Blue Jays today in a noon doubleheader at Cal State Northridge.

Where are they now?: Despite a 2-4 record in the minor leagues, Steve Ellsworth has earned a second shot with the Boston Red Sox.

Ellsworth, a rookie right-hander who played at Cal State Northridge, started the season with the Red Sox but posted a 1-5 record and was sent down May 20. He was recalled Wednesday from Pawtucket of the triple-A International League. In Ellsworth’s first start for Pawtucket, on May 24, he came within one out of throwing a no-hitter against Oklahoma City.

The Red Sox sent down first baseman Pat Dodson to make room for Ellsworth. Boston has 11 pitchers on its roster, but Manager John McNamara said he wanted extra depth for a 10-day, 12-game road swing that began Friday in Kansas City.


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