ST. PETERSBURG -- Don Zimmer's ninth-inning strategy did not turn out as he planned Sunday night.
Tampa Bay and Boston had already played nine innings and the scoreboard had all zeros on it when Zimmer, who is a special advisor for the Rays, reached for his car keys to head home. Jim Hickey spotted Zimmer leaving and the Rays pitching coach asked him what in the world he was doing leaving that game. Zimmer explained that usually when he left late in a game, the Rays scored a couple of runs.
Hickey didn't hesitate in telling Zim not to let the door hit him on his backside when he left the park.
The game progressed to the 16th inning, when Boston won via an RBI single by Dustin Pedroia. Boston managed to hold its 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the frame to take the win in five hours and 44 minutes.
"Unfortunately, my plan didn't work out," said Zimmer, with his customary smile.
History tells us such an outcome should have been expected, since Zimmer managed two similar games and lost both; for the Cubs on May 17, 1991, at Philadelphia -- a 1-0, 16-inning loss -- four days before he was dismissed, and for the Padres on June 7, 1972, vs. Pittsburgh -- a 1-0, 18-inning loss in the second game of a doubleheader.
Obviously, losing put a damper on Sunday's game for the Rays, but later in the day -- the game ended at 1:54 a.m. Monday -- Rays players gained some perspective and appreciation.
Jeff Niemann, who started for the Rays and allowed no runs in eight innings, called the game the best one he had played in because of "how evenly matched both teams were and how much competition was taking place in front of us."
"The pitching and defense was great for both sides," Niemann said. "There was just a constant one-upping of each other. Some momentum swings. They had it for a little bit, then it would stay with us. It was just a great game to be a part of. It was just a really odd game to see how evenly and closely matched these two teams were, and how it played out like that in the game."
Niemann felt like the game would be remembered years from now.
"I'm sure that game's going to come back up," Niemann said. "It will be cool to say, 'I was a part of that one, and I actually contributed.'"
Jake McGee, who helped the Rays escape a bases-loaded jam in the 11th by striking out Josh Reddick for the first out of the inning, noted that he had never been in a game as long with no score for so long as Sunday night's.
"Especially with how many guys were left on base for them," McGee said. "They had a lot of opportunities. Pitching came up huge and didn't let any runs score until the 16th inning. But it definitely was the longest game I've ever been a part of."
The game was the 34th since 1918 that has been scoreless through 15 or more innings and the 12th in the American League. And it was the longest 1-0 game in the Major Leagues since June 8, 2004, when the Brewers beat the Angels, 1-0, in an Interleague game. Rays manager Joe Maddon was the Angels' bench coach at the time, and Casey Kotchman played first base for the Angels.
By the time the Red Sox hit in the top of the 16th inning, the hit column had just three hits in it for each team.
"The thing that was unbelievable was that through all those innings each team only had three hits," Johnny Damon said. "When you looked through that box score today, it looks ugly for everybody. Everybody's batting average went down. Most of the pitchers' ERAs went down."
Rays hitters went a combined 3-for-50 (.060), making the Rays the first Major League team to record 50 or more at-bats and three or fewer hits in a game going back to 1919.
During the course of the game, the Rays used nine pitchers and 12 position players, leaving four players still available for duty. Of those players, Elliot Johnson was the lone remaining position player, putting him in a precarious state of alert.
"They were telling me, 'Make sure you're ready,'" Johnson said. "When it goes into 16 innings, you probably figure you're going to get in there at some point. I think I was going to run for Kotchman at one point. Or maybe I could run for Lobaton, and [Kelly Shoppach] come in. But Lobaton got hurt. Possibilities for me to come in got fewer and fewer to the point where I was pretty much insurance."
Johnson smiled when asked about the emergency catching duties.
"If [Shoppach] got hurt, Sean [Rodriguez] would probably catch first," Johnson said. "He looks pretty good back there. If you see him go catch between innings, he's got really soft hands -- looks like he's done it before. Me, not as much. I was hoping to pitch, to be honest with you. I wanted to get out there and throw."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.