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The story of Red Ruffing and the longest pitching performance in Yankees' history

Red Ruffing started this game, and he was going to finish it.

Michael Heiman/Getty Images

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a game in which Carl Mays pitched a complete game for the Yankees despite allowing 13 runs on 20 hits. Thirteen years after that game, another Yankees' pitcher had a quite an unusual pitching performance. This one in very different circumstances.

Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer, six time World Series champion, and a generally great Yankees' pitcher. You can definitely find many impressive outings in his career. However, this one might be the most impressive.

On June 7, 1936, Ruffing took the mound against the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees were in first place in the AL on route to a World Series-winning season.

The Yankees opened the game's scoring in the third inning when Ruffing himself hit a two-run home run. However, the Indians took a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Cleveland starting pitcher Oral Hildebrand answered back with an RBI of his own. The Indians added another run in the fifth, however the Yankees tied the game back up in the seventh.

That would be the beginning of a long day. The game went deep into extra innings. Neither team managed to score another run until the 16th inning. And who was the pitcher who threw the 16th inning for the Yankees? Red Ruffing. After he pitched another scoreless inning in top of the 16th, the Yankees won the game on a George Selkirk home run in the bottom half. And who did Selkirk hit it off of? Oral Hildebrand.

On this day, Ruffing threw 16 innings, allowing four runs on ten hits and six walks, with no strikeouts. Hildebrand pitched 15.2 innings and allowed five runs on 12 hits and two walks. If you halve Ruffing's outing into two starts of eight innings, allowing two runs in each, that's still really good.

What's maybe most amazing is that Ruffing's effort is only tied for 45th in the list of longest outings by a starting pitcher ever. Hildebreand got just one one less out and he drops all the way to a five-way tie for 87th. Ruffing's start is the longest ever by a Yankee, though.

Also of note is that the two teams used a combined 20 players. The only time either team went to the bench was when the Yankees used Roy Johnson to pinch hit for catcher Arndt Jorgens. And that didn't happen until the 15th inning. Johnson was then replaced by Joe Glenn in the top of the 16th.

I said this in the Carl Mays post, but it bears repeating here: This was the not Old Hoss Radbourn era. Pitchers weren't throwing 600 innings a season. In 1936, Ruffing threw 271 innings. That's a lot, but it's not a million miles off from Clayton Kershaw's league-leading 232 in 2015.

Ruffing made 33 starts that year, which is about what a starter who stays healthy all season will make even today. The Yankees' used eleven pitchers in 1936, so it's not like this was a time when baseball didn't use relievers. It's just that on this day, it was Red Ruffing's job to finish what he started. And he did.